Veda of the Body – Introduction

A book is not merely a collection of facts and figures. Books are meant for learning and education. They are an invitation to think, to ponder, to reflect upon the mysteries of life that have vexed mankind since inception. They are also a collective body of knowledge where each bit has built itself by standing upon countless other seen or unseen, acknowledged or unrecognized shoulders. Above all, books are meant to inspire us and compel us to look beyond the narrow and fixed frames of reference that we unconsciously build around ourselves. It is in this sense that knowledge is liberating. On the one hand, it releases us from the prison house of ‘ignorance’; on the other hand, it empowers us to handle our life better. The difference between information and knowledge is a special gift which comes by Grace. While it is easy to collect data and bundle it up neatly in facts and figures, it is not so easy to make sense of this enormous data knocking for appeal and admittance at the gates of our senses, claiming attention by our mind. No doubt facts are there but what a book is meant to do is to reveal to us what works behind these facts. The data that the senses provide, on which much of our evidence and theories are built upon, is only the first desideratum. The phenomenon is only a facade of an immensely complex play of forces that hold it against the background of Time and Space. True empowerment comes when we understand this background that gives birth to, supports and eventually draws back the phenomenal appearance that it had placed before our senses.

Much of our Science is the ‘science of appearances’. It deals with the surfaces of things, the flow and flux that we see and recognize. But we seldom understand how and why this flow came into being and into what does it collapse. We catch some intermediary processes but the deeper lines of forces always elude our grasp. We know genes and molecules but not ‘that’ which turns the genetic key into the right lock and regulates the molecular switch. We know the physiology and chemistry of life but not its beauty and artistry. We know each and every detail of the house of clay but are completely unaware of its builder and its owner. We also hardly know the many inhabitants of this house except for our formidable ego-self. To this grand ‘ignorance’ we give the name of ‘knowledge’. But knowledge is not just bits of information strung together in columns with neat margins. As the Isavasya Upanishad (one of the principal Upanishads of Indian metaphysical thought that deals with the comprehensive nature of the Reality in which and by which we live) puts it so clearly:

Other, verily, it is said, is that which comes by the Knowledge, other that which comes by the Ignorance; this is the lore we have received from the wise who revealed That to our understanding.’

But all this sounds like some mystic and meaningless doctrine of a bygone era. We belong to another age, the age of fast transfer of information, of a quick analysis of data under which heaps knowledge lies buried for want of space and thus, wisdom remains silent and unseen. Indeed we live in an age of information explosion. We are flooded with information of all sorts from every side. Each piece of this vast and an increasingly complex body of information is further supported by data of all kinds. Strangely we have streaming in towards us information and data that is often completely contradictory. Depending upon the angle of observation we build different theoretical models and frameworks of knowledge and systems to make sense of the flood that is bursting the seams of our mind and its capacity. Confused and confounded we make one of the two choices. Either we pick up our own angle of vision, our window of approach, and look at life and the world through that. Thus glued, almost hypnotically to our small point of perception, we declare all else as a non-existent reality, a hallucination or a chimera. This helps us to handle things, which shall be lost otherwise in an unintelligent sea of non-comprehension. Obviously we miss out on much that is equally if not more important. But in the bargain we seem to preserve our sanity.

But for how long? We are flooded each day, each minute, each second and we cannot ignore it any longer. We must reconcile contradictory things. We need to synthesize the supposed opposites. We cannot remain blind for long or play at the great game of denial that often passes of in the name of modern ‘science’. There is indeed much more in heaven and earth than our Science dreams of.

The characteristic of our times is that we have too many answers but very few questions. Our mind believes that just because something has passed through the crucible of reason and that illusory thing we call as logical proof, it must therefore be true. This is nothing short of a blind faith in reason though every such proof is dismissed by fresh evidence and new proofs. The corpse of the truth of yesterday is often revived and revitalized as new data pours in while the truths of today fade into oblivion leaving behind a slain body upon the highways of Time. Yet something survives and even grows through all this change and death and rebirth of Ideas – it is the human quest for Perfection, for Truth, for Light, for Immortality. To this indefatigable thirst for truth, this eternal seeking of the Eternal hidden in forms and names, trapped in the dust of time and captured however momentarily in the systems of thought and patterns of experience, we give the name of Veda. It has been said that if we distil information, cutting out the trash and the waste while keeping the reality hidden within the husk of outer fact, then we arrive at knowledge. When we distil this knowledge that is nothing but one way of looking at the vast incomprehensible universe and thus uncover the essence hidden carefully within the systems of knowledge, then we have Wisdom. But when we surpass even Wisdom and go straight to the heart of Truth, where all Ideas rejoin Reality and rest in a harmonious concert, becoming the many faces of a single Truth, then we have the Veda. The Vedas are not simply outer data and heaps of information, they are not even a system of Knowledge, a way of looking at things like many others; it is not even Wisdom that comes through an inner illumination and the dawning of a sudden insight that opens a path to hidden truths. It is rather an intuition that goes straight to the heart of the matter and puts us in touch with its core and unveils the secret truth that it contains. Such was the path the ancient seers followed in a spiritual and intuitive age of mankind. While this must have happened everywhere since mankind has a common origin and a common quest and a common goal, yet it has been given to India to safeguard this knowledge and explore the many paths that lead to it and the many ways it expresses Itself in life and creation.

One such expression of this Intuition hidden in the depths of creation is the human body itself. It is also, for those who know it, a secret pathway to lead us into a larger and vaster and freer existence now hidden to us, but to which there are secret doorways that open from within our human body itself. It is said in one of the Upanishads that when the One brought out many a form from within, He asked of the gods (the many powers of this One Supreme Transcendent Existence) if they would want to enter into any of them. The gods refused till the human form was brought forth into which they happily agreed to enter. The human body thus became a tabernacle in which the gods reside and where still a secret worship is offered to the Divine Presence that is immanent in the universe. This is a view of life that may seem to some of us moderns a bit archaic today. Have we not dissected the human body and found that there is no God but only a bundle of chemicals or call it molecules if you like? This model of man echoes the sentiment of the previous century, especially its early phase. Biological and psychological sciences followed in the trail of physics in the last century and often mechanically parroted what physics, the leading frontier of Science, declared. In the process, these other sciences lost an opportunity for fresh and original thought. The logic ran thus – matter is basically chemicals and atoms and molecules, therefore anything found on earth and built with matter would share the same basic nature. What we missed out was the glaring fact that living beings do not behave as matter does. So also thinking creatures have something else added to them than is found in living beings alone. The true formula of man is matter plus life plus mind. The laws of life and the laws of mind are not merely a repetition in different terms and on another ground of the same fundamental laws of matter. So what really is Mind? Is it another form of matter or is it something else that is over-riding upon matter and altering its laws under the pressure of something that is imposed upon material substance? Surely for the latter to happen something of the mind must exist in matter to build up a point of contact. It is like the spark plug of the motor vehicle that starts up the engine. And yet we cannot say that it is all the same and that mind is simply the brain and its movements can be studied as and reduced to simple chemistry and physiology.

In fact, our understanding of matter itself has undergone a sea of change since the early twentieth century. Matter itself has become a magical space full of wonders where very little holds in its lap so very much, where near nothing adds up to a considerable something, where zero and infinity, empty space and solid substance, randomness and laws, chaos and order are intertwined together in such a way as to fulfil each other. Unity and differentiation enrich rather than cancelling each other so far as Nature is concerned. Thus seen, the game of survival begins to change into a play of forces and qualities with forms as mere toys. Nature, in this vast and complex game appears to the unsealed eye no more as something mechanical and unconscious but as a goddess whose ways and ends we cannot fathom. She conceals most when she seems to be revealing most; she holds the finite and the infinite together in a single sum and when we believe that we have finally discovered and known her ways and will be her master, she deftly and with one master stroke makes a fool of us and enslaves. None knows what secrets she guards beneath her countless apparels, dark and dangerous or bright and beautiful. Yet if we just observe carefully without any a priori biases and preferred opinions we shall have a glimpse of the deep wisdom, the intuition that surpasses and baffles our highest intelligence hidden behind all her works and processes, an intuition that at once takes into account the smallest and minutest details as well as the largest span of our seeing. Even her random footfalls and seeming errors are more self-assured steps than those of our utmost calculating minds. She creates the laws and she enjoys in breaking them, as if freedom and rule were merely pastimes for her. The ancient seers called her as maya duratya, that none can overcome by one’s own efforts alone. It needs a special Grace, a breath of the Spirit, to surpass her. Then we too can play with her along the highways of life instead of the constant fear and anxiety, and the burden of fate that we carry upon our shoulders.

Yes to some she does reveal her secret. He who has thus untied the cosmic knot and solved the cosmic riddle of creation; he who has glimpsed behind the iron curtain of our material senses; he who has been able to look beyond the ever changing face of Nature upon the face of the ever unchanging Eternal, the stable base and support of all things born in Time and Space – these are the seers of the Vedas. They saw what our modern mind in its hurry and impatience misses. They saw the origin of this constant flow and flux and the royal road to freedom and mastery. They held the thread that links all creation in a single interconnected chain, this necklace of many beads that nature has woven for herself. They called this common Matrix of all creation ‘Chit-Tapas’ or ‘Chit-Shakti’, that which is at once Supreme Knowledge and Supreme Power. Forms and qualities and forces are simply Its grand or minor projections, like the rays of the Sun. Laws and processes are simply Its play of Light and Shadows as it builds forms out of Itself projected in Time and Space. She is the original ’cause’ yet is beyond all ‘causation’. Free and infinite and omniscient and all-powerful, She too is present in all beings, concealing most of Her Power and letting out only a miniscule fraction of it in the creature, and that miniscule is enough to sustain it for a lifetime. The whole universe is lit up by a single degree of Her Ray. Thus they beheld Her, the power within, behind, beyond and around all creation. This is another way to live, a deeper, truer and more complete way since through Her we are linked to all things manifested or yet unmanifested, things that are born and those that to our limited vision are dead and gone. The past and the future, the individual and the cosmic rhythms are all linked through Her. She is the secret of all Harmony and all Delight.

Thus they discovered—the scientists of the Spirit who tried in their own way to decipher the secret language of Nature—the rhythms and patterns and laws and rules of her vast and random game. They had a top-down view or an inside-outside vision of life and its forces and energies, tracing the lines of descent of the One Consciousness from Its Origin right up to the nether bottom of existence. As it descended, this vast supra-cosmic Intelligence, this infinite Power, this Delight that is at the core and base of each thing like an underground stream sustaining it, lapsed into a more and more fragmented state with each of its aspects and each of its trillion energies that spread out like so many rays of the Sun and rushed towards creation as if separate and cut off from its origin. In its final leap it lapsed into Its utter opposite. But since the secret link was always there, a memory thrilled and stirred within creation’s depths towards its own self-discovery, the discovery of its origin and parentage. In each creature this pull towards the origin is felt in its own way. In man it has taken the form of conscious seeking, a quest that is more than mere questioning, a search for something that is never satisfied. It is this recovery to which modern Science gives the name of evolution. It is the recovery of the full orb of Consciousness of the lost Sun hidden behind the veil of shadows and darkness, of the treasures of the spirit that lie buried in caves of Time. All evolution is the emergence of possibilities inherent in creation since they lie latent within the creature. But this emergence is not without its struggle and pain, the labour pains of a new birth. On the one hand, there is this tendency towards the lapse and its result of a mechanical habitual pattern or way of being that we call as ‘fixed laws of nature and of each species’. On the other hand, there is along with it a constant urge to understand, master, challenge and eventually change these laws. Modern Science tries to do it by changing the externalities, by manipulating the surfaces of life and the environment in which we live and breathe. By doing so it only exchanges one set of laws for another, becomes dependent upon external regulation imposed and executed by machinery and equipment in place of Nature. Yet we still remain slaves of Nature since mind too is part of Nature and all our equipments and machinery cannot change the inner man, however much they may modify his behaviour and speech and outer actions. The ancients instead took another route to conquest. They tried to find ways and means to change the inner man and to master and harness the forces of Nature by the emergence of a greater and greater power and knowledge from within the bedrock of infinite possibilities until that point was reached where one could touch and find the One True Consciousness, the Original Power, the authentic Truth.

That is another way to understand life, another way to live and act and be. It is another vantage point from where we can look at creation without the sense of awe and fear and yet with the perfect wonder of a child playing a game with a full awareness of the rules yet knowing all the while that it is a game, though a game with a divine purpose. Or shall we say that life is a great puzzle where through the paradoxes we encounter we move towards a greater harmony. One such paradox of life is the existence of a conscious soul that resides in a mechanically conscious body. This is the great puzzle that Nature has set before us – not to baffle or frustrate us but to help us grow into the fullness of life. It even makes this paradox acute, the contrast sharper, when it wants to hasten us towards finding the key that would resolve the contradiction. The seers of the Vedas had discovered this key, this alchemic energy in man, this transmuting fire that can uplift all things and change them from things human to rhythms and movements divine. That is the real and radical solution they offered though in the way they made many discoveries, the hidden planes and the secret springs of mighty energies that can rock our inner space, powers that can chain and maim as also powers that can make us strong and set us free. These powers that are ever battling since time immemorial, try to occupy as much of man’s inner psychological and even physical space as they can, giving his nature a turn towards the beast or a god. But man was not born to remain an animal. True his body belongs more to an animal but his consciousness has already something in him that would not long suffer an animal makeup. He must outgrow this early start and release from within his body the flaming godheads, the hidden divinities that reside and labour in his depths though unknown to his outer awareness.

We too can share this great discovery and recover the lost Godhead that we secretly are. It is even given to us to do so. The human body as we shall see is a marvellous opportunity, a doorway to things that are far beyond our present comprehension. Our anatomy and physiology is like an immense and attractive facade of a many tiered mansion. Flowing side by side with our blood vessels there are streams of Light and Force and Bliss whose touch can alter the fixed logic of things. Concealed below the floor of genes and the ambiguous molecules whose strange configuration shapes our lives, there exist roots of our bygone past waiting to sprout. There is a vast expanse of spiritual space knocking at the doors of perception, awaiting the handle-bars of the brain and the knobs of the synaptic space to turn, leading us to the magical space of another dimension. Running through the nervous channels and its physiological currents that traverse up and down the spinal column feeding all organs with life, there runs parallel to it, the occult channels of a mighty transfiguring Force that has built the many systems of worlds in its omniscient sleep. Our breath carries along with the molecules of oxygen and air waves and particles of life-energy parcelled in packets and bundles a subtle energy than our senses can perceive or our scientific instruments detect. Our very organs are symbolic of some aspect or movement of the universal existence and are linked with these aspects of the universal Energy. Not just the outer but our inner life of thoughts and dreams and feelings and impulse to action reflect something of the cosmic flux and flow of which our body and brain are the secret receivers and transmitters. Thus when we study the body we study the whole cosmos along with it for indeed the whole universe is concealed or reflected within it. But also when we study the body we also study the ways of the Spirit that transcends the cosmos, we enter into relationship with the Transcendent, that Infinite Force and Intelligence that lies secret within us. Above all, we discover the Love that is one with Wisdom and labours in our own depths keeping a constant vigil over our body and mind and heart and soul when we slip into sleep. The body by this view is so far the highest expression of the Spirit that is secret within Matter.

But Man is still only a half-way home of the Evolutionary Spirit. It must complete the full circuit. The journey must end from where it began. Through whatever route it may take, wearing the various masks of name and form, it must return back to that Omnipotent Wisdom and Omniscient Will whose essence and core is Delight. Our evolutionary journey is incomplete till we have recovered, within the boundaries of form, the Boundless, the Eternal, the Infinite. Nay it must still labour on until the finite form becomes a perfect expression of the infinite Spirit and the name releases within us the divine potencies now only latent as a hidden possibility. Birth, Death, Illness are only some of the stages and stations of this great journey; a comma, a brief pause and not a full stop. This book is an attempt to trace this perilous and delightful adventure that the Spirit has undertaken with Matter as Its means and the human body as Its fulcrum and lever to launch into a new and unprecedented project whose end is the divinization of this clay-house built of mud and mire and whose path and passage is full of uncertainties and risks and surprises. It is a look at life in its totality. It attempts to capture a glimpse of the vast complexity that has woven this stupendous tapestry of life and this robe of matter for the soul to wear. Without discarding and even including the various models and paradigms used to describe and understand Man it seeks to go beyond them and understand afresh the mystery called Man and the wonder called the human life. It derives its inspiration from the vast and all-comprehensive Vision and outlook of the seers of yore who foresaw the distant possibility of the transmutation of our very physical substance into a divine body, best described by the foremost seer of our times, Sri Aurobindo in his epic and mantric poem Savitri:

A magical accord quickened and attuned
To ethereal symphonies the old earthy strings;
It raised the servitors of mind and life
To be happy partners in the soul’s response,
Tissue and nerve were turned to sensitive chords,
Records of lustre and ecstasy; it made
The body’s means the spirit’s acolytes.
A heavenlier function with a finer mode
Lit with its grace man’s outward earthliness;
The soul’s experience of its deeper sheaths
No more slept drugged by Matter’s dominance.
In the dead wall closing us from wider self,
Into a secrecy of apparent sleep,
The mystic tract beyond our waking thoughts,
A door parted, built in by Matter’s force,
Releasing things unseized by earthly sense:
A world unseen, unknown by outward mind
Appeared in the silent spaces of the soul.
He sat in secret chambers looking out
Into the luminous countries of the unborn
Where all things dreamed by the mind are seen and true
And all that the life longs for is drawn close.
He saw the Perfect in their starry homes
Wearing the glory of a deathless form,
Lain in the arms of the Eternal’s peace,
Rapt in the heart-beats of God-ecstasy.
He lived in the mystic space where thought is born
And will is nursed by an ethereal Power
And fed on the white milk of the Eternal’s strengths
Till it grows into the likeness of a god.

[Sri Aurobindo, Savitri: Book I, Canto III]