Cosmology, Old and New: Following its evolution from ancient times, in search of keys for renewal and application today

'The next great paradigm shift in science will be by nature transdisciplinary – it will be a cosmological revolution in the classical sense in which cosmology has always been the science of the whole of reality (kosmos, after all, means ‘ordered whole’ in classical Greek).'
Ervin Laszlo, The Creative Cosmos

T h e  G r e a t   D i v i d e

Its purpose and implications for
survival of the Veda

by Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet
Director, Aeon Centre of Cosmology

17 November 2009

‘… [F]or some two thousand years at least
no Indian has really understood the Vedas…’
Sri Aurobindo

Part I

India is a good model to use if we want to follow a civilisational development from the beginning of at least recorded history to the present. For this purpose there is the abiding discipline of cosmology. The earliest recorded example of that discipline, or rather its product – a certain widespread level of awareness along the particular lines the record indicates – would be the Rig Veda. Few would be willing to accept that this early record of cosmic praises can be considered cosmology. But if we follow the unbroken line from that period to the present we easily note the relevance. And we are also able to understand the fundamental difference with our world as it moves in toto to its ‘brave new’ complexity.
The important element that distinguishes the cosmology of the Vedic Age and our present scientific brand is the focus on the human element and the development of a superior consciousness central to the collection. The difference can also be evaluated by the simple fact that to the modern Indologist and historian the hymns are simply the emotional outpourings of primitive nature worshippers – pagans, as they are labelled in the religiously-influenced mind of monotheistic academicians and theologians. Only very few have detected anything deeper in the Veda. And yet the text, to one initiated into the same system it propagates, is our best example of what contemporary cosmology lacks. Scientific cosmology makes no mention of the element so central to that of the Vedic Age – the evolution of human consciousness in harmony with the cosmos and able to use its harmonies for self-perfection and the perfection of the entire civilisation it spawned – a society in which the ills of the modern world would appear to have been absent. As an example, the approach to Nature in those former times reveals a very different connection. The world was alive, a living being; the same awareness was extended to the entire solar system with each planet given an identity and imbibed with a consciousness. Indeed, the significant difference between then and now is that there was clearly in evidence a spirit of oneness, making the Earth and the surrounding cosmos a single being.
In our times this understanding has only come through certain mystical experiences to select individuals. It is an awareness that has been aggressively eliminated from our sciences, with the exception of certain trends somewhat outside of the mainstream such as the Gaia Hypothesis of James Lovelock in the 1960s. Given the thirst abroad upon the planet to find connectedness and purpose, it became a beacon for New Age and ecology groups throughout the world. But even the Gaia Paradigm, now considered a theory and no longer an hypothesis, does not incorporate a precise method to evolve a higher consciousness and a spirit of oneness which we find elaborated in the Veda, for indeed there are the guidelines of such a system in the ancient text.
The Rig Veda has preserved its yogic method of the evolution of consciousness for all times. But evolution cannot be fooled. The very fact that the verses are in the main incomprehensible, or have been poorly interpreted to support a largely fossilised ritualism rather than the deeper aim of self-perfection, confirms that the old cosmology had lost its bearings. Somewhere along the line the human component was eliminated, which had previously been the central objective of the process. Having deliberately secured that elimination the resultant scientific cosmology has brought the world to a critical crossroads. Science and technology have run amok with their successes. Almost every branch of learning and technology has carried us collectively to a dangerous crossroads without being able to ensure us that these remarkable discoveries will not carry us to a partial or complete annihilation of the human species.
This impasse would have been unthinkable in the Vedic Age precisely for the reason stated: the focus was on the human element and the development of all parts of consciousness-being in harmony with the cosmos. Perception of the binding integrality and oneness of creation is lacking today, though with every breakthrough science makes we are faced again with the disastrous effects such ignorance can cause to humanity. We could argue that being so ‘primitive’ and ‘technologically under-developed’ the inhabitants of the subcontinent had little choice but to concentrate on the only available laboratory for experimentation: the human component.
While that focus bore the desired results in producing a society in harmony with the cosmic surround, this was only part of Nature’s plan. As it turned out, this one-sided development of sorts while essential would not have served the evolutionary purpose as mapped out in cosmology itself. Our good fortune is to be living in the age of synthesis. To play out the cosmic Purpose there had to be a separation, a determining divide precisely in what has come to be known as the concerns of the spirit in contrast to those of material existence. Both had to go their separate ways and be left to their own resources for the destined synthesis to evolve. The question now is to examine those developments on either side of the divide. In the process we will uncover the way to that Synthesis.

The unravelling begins
Early in the Age of Pisces (234 BCE to 1926 CE), the definitive split between the way of the Spirit and that of Science became consolidated. It was also then that the Vedic Way began to suffer a decline. The effects of the parting of ways was harshly felt in the subcontinent in that gradually a corrosion set in with the loss of an emphasis on a cosmological system geared toward establishing a society of a higher model by first consolidating that superior level in the individual and collective consciousness. On the other hand, science on its own, bereft of the control a higher consciousness can provide, veered off and gradually produced a global society demonstrating this failure in that its proclivities have carried us to the brink of annihilation. If we do not bring about our downfall through global warming and its consequences, we may well do so by the unstoppable stockpiling of lethal weapons of mass destruction. Regarding the latter, it is now generally accepted that it is just a question of time before something of that stockpile falls into the hands of extremists who are playing out their religious or ideological beliefs on the world stage. For instance, the arrival of religions offering salvation in an afterlife made it possible, when carried to an extreme, to convince vulnerable youth that martyrdom is the way to that salvation, the quickest and surest way. Thus armies are gathering, weapons are amassed to play out a final Judgement Day, but one that may be quite different from what is prophesied in our holy books.
Scholars often become victims of the parameters set around their respective disciplines; they tend to miss the forest for the trees. The true purpose of cosmology is to transcend those limitations. As a discipline it alone among all others is capable of revealing a consciousness of unity and oneness such as the ancient sages enjoyed and which will be the solution to our problems today. In this essay I will introduce a cosmology that calls up that ancient way but now brought fully into the context of our contemporary civilisation. This exercise will prove that in understanding the ‘logic’ of the cosmos the culprit at whose feet the divisive consciousness of our times can be laid is, in a word, otherworldliness, with its focus on an afterlife. But it is not only exclusivist Piscean-Age religions of the Middle East that have inculcated this belief in a redeeming Beyond; the subcontinent has been its victim as well. After the great divide all spirituality, with perhaps only few exceptions, took the same route away from an Earth-based realisation such as the Vedic Age had produced. The only difference between this development and the occidental model based on that Piscean exclusivism is the continuity we find in India, extending to a former Age prior to the Piscean. Though the Veda is a closed book for thinkers today, it remains the bedrock of the evolution of consciousness and the many spiritual disciplines that have evolved over this period. Fortunately we can make use of this continuity to discuss the problem the great divide has caused in order to pinpoint that culpability and thereby to learn the manner in which it can be overcome.
To this end the cosmology bequeathed to us from the Vedic Age has to be updated. In so doing when we seek to apply the system today, not only will its inadequacies be revealed but also that the need for updating is upon us. None of the postulations of the Age of Pisces will adequately serve us in this process, precisely because of the otherworldly emphasis they all harbour. But in maintaining the thread of development intact, even if distorted, we find ourselves in a position to discover exactly how and when the degeneration set in and, above all, what its purpose has been. In the realm of spirituality just as in science it had become imperative to lose the original poise in order to encompass a wider base, global in fact; this would be provided by science set upon its own discoveries, thereby creating a new field where cosmology of the Vedic type could flourish in an unprecedented manner because science had paved the way.
The key lay in integrality. This was present in the Vedic Age as we will discover, but the scope or reach of the realisation was perforce limited to the subcontinent. Today cosmology must be integral and all-encompassing: it must cover the entire globe.

Universalism and wholeness
It would be unfair to lay the blame entirely on spirituality for our woes; the materialist consciousness out of which science arose plays its role in the conundrum as well. If this material life is all that matters and there is neither an afterlife nor future births to consider, then the control religions could hold over human beings is eliminated by dissolving the notion of sin, punishment and recompense. With that elimination, however, went a certain respect for our planetary base: science of the staunchly materialistic kind repeatedly demonstrates this disrespect, to the point that in an uncontrolled frenzy it has collaborated with the spiritual camp to bring us to the brink of extinction.
Based on a study of the development of cosmology from the Vedic Age to the present, we are able to note the limitations that brought about the need for the great divide; and also how processes are constantly evolving to prepare avenues of expression for the new dispensation so that the whole Earth can benefit and not just the subcontinent. This analysis will provide evidence to suggest that the cosmology of the Veda continues to be not only the bedrock of Indian spirituality but how the survival of the thread connecting today’s expressions to that bedrock in itself indicates the necessity for the planet to preserve and protect that continuity for the survival of not only the Veda but the species itself. In this exercise it will be interesting to note how these discoveries can be made simply by observing the degeneration that set in after the Vedic Age had passed, and the inadequacies of the old cosmology when analysed with a contemporary eye. These made it imperative for science to lend a helping hand by providing an Earth whose body itself had become whole in the last half of the second millennium; this perception of wholeness has been further consolidated by space travel and the image of an undivided borderless planet irrespective of the ills a divisive consciousness continues to generate, depriving human beings of that binding sense of Oneness which is our natural birthright.
We will attempt to follow the thread connecting us to those former times via one precise area: cosmology. Ervin Laszlo, whose thoughtful book, The Creative Cosmos,1 makes the case for cosmology as the one discipline capable of expressing and answering the concerns of our contemporary world, writes on page 26,

'…The next great paradigm shift in science will be by nature transdisciplinary – it will be a cosmological revolution in the classical sense in which cosmology has always been the science of the whole of reality (kosmos, after all, means ‘ordered whole’ in classical Greek).'

[Part II soon to be posted]
[See also 'The Emerging Cosmos'

1 Ervin Laszlo, The Creative Cosmos, Floris Books, 1993.

© Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet 2009


'In a number of scientific disciplines the search for integral understanding is about to reach a new phase. It is expressed in the quest for unified theories in the new physics and the new cosmology ….

'The horizons that open for a scientific knowledge of cosmos and consciousness are vast and breath-taking.' 

Ervin Laszlo, The Creative Cosmos, p. 25

1 comment:

  1. The Vedic Sanskrit is far removed from the Sanskrit as understood today since it is compilation in text of what was earlier available only as Shruti, spoken form. The current understanding of Vedas by Indian and Western scholars alike is based on the explanation provided by the 14th Century Sage Sayana.

    The Sages who converted the Vedas from Shruti to text, knew that the meaning of the words not be understood correctly by the future generations. They therefore compiled what is called, "Nirukta" which is like a concordance of vedic words. It is believed that originally there were five Niruktas to allow the student to progress deeper and deeper gradually. Only one of them called "Nighantu" by the sage Yaska has been available to the humanity for centuries. The references to the other Niruktas are found in other texts. Sage Sayana based his commentary on the Nighantu. Others just followed.

    In absence of those Niruktas, even the best interpretation, can only be a guess. Though that guess may have come from the deepest intuition, it cannot be a substitute for the exact meaning contained in the Niruktas.