by Swami Krishnananda
We saw that the subject and object seem to be creating an unbridged gulf. There is an unintelligible relationship between man and nature. This has been an age-old problem of every person, without distinction, and it is doubtful if this problem has ever been solved. The relation between man and his environment, the individual and society, ourselves and another – all these are different ways of expressing the same old difficulty and question. It is difficult to reconcile myself with what is outside me. It is my problem, and this problem has many sides and many aspects, one inside the other. That which is outside me – a person near me, a neighbour beside me, a society around me, a country near my country or the universe facing me – it makes no difference, because all mean one and the same thing as far as my problem is concerned.
This was an eternal question that was posed before man's mind: what can we do with this that stares us in the face? Astronomers, physicists, chemists, biologists, psychologists and all sorts of people have tried their best to answer this question. However, no one has yet answered it satisfactorily, because the approach of methodological sciences is something like the attempt of blind men to describe an elephant. The blind men touched different parts of the elephant, but could not touch the whole of the elephant at any time. Neither the astronomer, nor the physicist, nor the biologist was in a position to touch the whole of nature at one stroke. They began to touch the legs, ears and tusk, and began to say, "It is long, short, like a wall, and so on." These are the answers that we get from our wise men of the world.
That is good enough as a workable hypothesis but is not satisfying to the soul of man, because the soul can only be satisfied by the whole of nature. The corpse of nature cannot satisfy the soul of man. We do not want to be presented with the corpse of anything. We want living things – vital, meaningful and significant objects. A scrap of paper has no meaning to us, but when it bears the stamp of the government it becomes a currency note and it receives a meaning. We want meaningful, not meaningless paper. We want method, symmetry, completeness, meaning and a vital relationship with things – then it is that we seem to respond to things through our souls. It is difficult for man to approach nature as it is in itself, because we cannot approach anything unless we understand it properly. We make a mess of things when we do not understand the things which we are going to handle. It may be even a cup of tea – we may spill the tea and get a stain on our clothes, if we don't handle it properly. We may burn our fingers on the stove or we may forget the sugar, and so many confusions may take place if we have no proper understanding and no concentration of mind. We may not be able to take even a cup of tea and sip it properly without dropping a little. So many things are small matters which indicate a lack of concentration and an unprepared mind. This kind of approach to nature will not bring satisfying results.
We should not approach nature like a businessman approaching his account books. Nature has to be approached as nature would expect us to approach it. If a person is to approach us, how would we expect him to approach? If some person comes to us seeking work, how do we expect him to come? He should come in a sympathetic manner, in an understanding manner, in an amiable manner, and in a manner which is agreeable to our essential nature. This is how we would expect a person to approach us, and not in a way that is contrary to our nature. If he does not approach us like this we are repelled by him, and we cannot bear his presence. If this is the human attitude, then this is nothing but nature's attitude as well. It is nature that speaks through us. When we expect others to correspond to our nature, it is the natural disposition of creation which speaks through our personalities. When we expect another person or another thing to approach us in consonance with what we really are, and we are made in this way, nature cannot be expected to be made in another way. But what have our scientists done? They have tried to conquer nature. How would we like a person if he were to come to us to conquer us, to overcome us, or to subjugate us? Would we like it? No, we would not like it. If I come to you to conquer you, will you appreciate me? Nature will not tolerate a person who tries to conquer her.
We try to utilise, conquer, overcome and subjugate nature. This is a very untactful method which we have adopted. Nature puts us off the moment we approach it in a conquering spirit or in a suspicious attitude. Nobody wishes to be approached with suspicion. Our approach should be sympathetic, if it is going to be successful. I will now try to go step by step to show how nature has been approached by our scientists up until this time. For the astronomer, nature appeared to be constituted of diversified objects, and he took things as they appeared. Each star and each planet was cast off from the earth, and there were no connections between one and the other, and they were surprised at how the stars were hanging above our heads. "How is it that the sun does not drop down on the earth?" is the wonder expressed by children even today. "How is it that the stars do not fall down? The sun and the moon are hanging in space. By what power?" is a question of children. And the grown-up children were not better in the wonder that they entertained in regard to nature. The rising and setting of the sun and the changing of seasons were all wonders and marvels. The original approach of astronomy was one of an attitude of the diversity of things. The adhibhuta or the external world was approached as it appears to the physical senses. This approach brought a knowledge which saw the universe as merely a wonder, a knowledge that was unsatisfying. As a consequence, the world remained a wonder. How all this universe came about could not be known. How things are and why they should be as they are remained an unanswerable marvel.
Man advanced in his knowledge of nature step by step until he reached the present circumstances of this twentieth century. The adhibhuta is a term to designate nature in its totality. Adhibhuta or nature was an astronomical diversity constituted of planets, stars, and so on, including the Earth, and there was apparently no relation between them. We seemed to be suspended in space in a very mysterious manner unknown to the human mind. Advancing knowledge revealed by various methods that the stars and the planets are not hanging or suspended as they appeared to be, but seem to be relatively attracting each other by a force called gravitation. That this relativity of gravitational pull keeps them in the position in which they are was a later discovery of many scientists of both the East and the West. Gravitational pull explained everything. The foremost among those scientists of the West was Newton, and in India we had the astronomers Bhaskara and Varahamihira.
Just for your information, it is said that in southern India near Vijayanagar, a great ancient capital of a Hindu kingdom of the past, that there was an image of Lord Krishna suspended in space, just hanging in space. How could this be? Many engineers came and stood looking at the image as it hung in space without being pulled down by the earth – with no wires or connecting links from any side. British archaeologists who were interested in the phenomenon later on discovered that there were four pillars on the ground which were made up of magnets. The four magnetic pillars were pulling this iron image on the top with an equally distributed power in different directions, in such a way that the image could not drop. They wanted to improve this and removed one pillar, but afterwards it did not succeed because an electromagnet was put in the pillar. They could not get the image suspended again, and the effect has been lost forever. Those ancient people were apparently wiser and surer than the present-day scientists!
The pull of a magnet is a similar, familiar phenomenon comparable to the universal magnetic pull of the stellar and planetary regions. The wonder remains as to how this could be conceived by any possible mind, if at all there is a mind of that kind who could set these bodies in such a harmonious relationship with one another. How many stars and how many planets are in the heavens? We cannot count them, and how is it that they are all so systematically and mathematically arranged with relative pull upon one another? If there is anyone who could have done this, there could then be no greater wonder than the mind of that person. Well, to come to the point, it was discovered that the heavenly bodies are not scattered, as children might imagine. There is an unknown power connecting these bodies, and this power is the explanation for the change of seasons, the movements of the stars and so forth in the astronomical universe. But our explanation is not complete here. The wonder yet remains as to what is this gravitational pull, and what have we to do with it? How are we to explain the universe for our purposes, and how are we going to understand nature? Unless there is a thorough understanding, there will be no satisfaction.
Knowledge is bliss. The greater the knowledge, the greater also is the happiness. If there is inadequate understanding, then there will be a dissatisfaction lurking within. "Something is not all right. I don't understand this." This is the sorrow of the scientist and the philosopher. As knowledge advanced, it was discovered that the gravitational pull was not the full explanation. The necessity arose to find out what these bodies were made of that were attracting one another. What is the sun? What is the moon? What are the stars? Of what are they constituted? The substance of the cosmos became the subject of study. While the superficial vision sees many colours, many sounds and many things in the universe, the analytic minds of the scientists discovered that the many things are made up only of a few things. The multitude in the variety of creation is explicable in terms of a few fundamental elements of which everything is made.
In India it was felt that everything was made up of five things: the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the air element and the ether (space) element. The ether element was an enigma for scientists. Everything is made up of these five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether. All the wonder of creation is included in the wonder of these five elements. The vast astronomical universe is made up of these five elements alone. But what these five elements are – that is another question.
One needs to go deeper and deeper. What is earth made of? 'Earth' is only a name that we give to something which appears hard to the touch, but the mere name does not satisfy us. We may use the word 'earth', but what is earth? What is water? What is fire? What are these five elements? Why not go deeper and discover what these five elements are made of? In Sanskrit these elements are called the mahabhutas. Maha means 'great', and bhutas means 'existing elements'. What are these made of? They became the object of further scientific analysis. We know, as educated people, what these discoveries have been. Physicists of later times analysed the elements of earth, water, fire and air, although they could not analyse ether because they did not know what ether was. It appeared to be a vacuum, and how could one analyse a vacuum? Hence, the vacuum was left out of the analysis. The analysis was only of the four elements of earth, water, fire and air. They went on dissecting these into bits and parts and minor particles visible only to a powerful microscope. It was proclaimed as a great discovery that these physical attributes were made up of elements. They said that there are about ninety-two or so elements. This was a great advancement by the scientists, and they were all very happy. "Now we have discovered nature!" We know that a chemical substance differs from another in constitution and function. Ninety-two elements constitute the whole of nature and these big bodies called earth, water, fire and air are nothing but complexes of minute particles, molecules or chemical substances – each different from the other in its constitution.
Then the desire arose to dissect even the molecules. They were cut into pieces by electronic processes, which was the work of more recent times. Electronic investigation revealed that minor particles or atoms constituted the molecules. A few people were not fully satisfied, and they thought there was something enigmatic about all this, and they were suspicious of these discoveries. Others however think that we have understood nature perfectly. Today we are told with tremendous confidence that we are in a world of electrical forces called electrons, protons, neutrons and so on. Everything is reducible to these fundamentals. What they are in essence – whether waves or particles – is not known for sure. Some say they are waves, some say they are constituted of jumping particles. Some gentleman said they are 'wave-icles'. Waves and particles combined are wave-icles – very humorous and interesting! "This is a world made of wave-icles," concluded Sir Arthur Eddington. Very humerous he was, and he became a great philosopher later on. If we don't know whether it is a wave or a particle, we can call it a wave-icle. He did this, and he proclaimed it as a great discovery. Though we generate electricity, we really do not know what it is. Let us not enter into this controversy. Nobody knows, and there ends the matter.