Introduction and Overview
Vaishnava literature describes four forms of God—Vasudeva, Saṅkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha. These four forms are also said to be the masters of mind (Aniruddha), intelligence (Pradyumna), ego (Saṅkarṣaṇa) and mahattattva (Vasudeva), which are material elements in Sāńkhya. This leads us to ask: how is God the “master” of a material element, and how is the relation between God and the material element established?
This article delves into the relation between God and matter, and how a complete understanding of any material element involves an understanding of God. In a very specific sense, therefore, science (as the study of matter) is incomplete without knowledge of God.
The Four Subtle Elements
In Sāńkhya the mind represents ideas, but not just any type of idea; specifically, the mind stands for object concepts—e.g. “table”, “chair”, “house”, “watch” etc. From these object concepts, other concepts are derived. For example, to describe a “table” we have to employ some senses such as “sight”, which will then employ some observable properties such as “shape” and “color”, which will be converted into some values such as “redness” and “blueness” for “color”, “square” and “circular” for “shape”, etc. The object concept “table” is more subtle than the concept “sight”, which is more subtle than the property “color”, which is more subtle than the sense object “redness”. In Sāńkhya, this hierarchy is described as manas → indriya → tanmātra → sthūla-tattva. All these four tiers are “concepts”: object concept, sensation concept, property concept, and value concept.
At present, science has evolved its own object concepts (e.g. particle and wave), indriya (measuring instruments), tanmātra (properties such as mass and charge), and values (quantities). Modern science believes that nature was not designed for perception. Nature just exists, and our perception is an accident. Since our senses and the world are not meant for each other, some of the properties of the world can never be known by our senses, and some of the capabilities in the senses can never be fulfilled in the world. This now becomes the source of our scientific frustration: we try to know the world and control it, but sometimes we can, and sometimes we can’t. Science becomes incomplete because nature (according to science) is not “designed” for our knowledge and control.
The problems in science arise not due to these specific concepts, but due to the belief that nature wasn’t designed for perception and control. This belief is further expanded into other beliefs such as “nature is uniform everywhere”, “nature has no subjective properties”, “nature is material objects”, “matter moves by physical forces”, etc. Sāńkhya is that shift in which everything in nature can potentially be known, and every capability in our senses can potentially be used. Without this belief, nature is not completely knowable and controllable. Current science stands at a juncture where conceptual revision (i.e. new object concepts, new properties, new instruments, and new mathematics) isn’t adequate. We have to instead change our beliefs, which are deeper than scientific concepts.
These beliefs exist in the intellect which is used to perform judgments of truth and false. For example, if I believe that you are a liar, then no matter what you say it would be considered a lie. Since we have some beliefs, we only listen to those people who agree with those beliefs, and we avoid those who disagree with us. Even if we encounter those oppositions, we ignore them, take them lightly, or find fault in their views.
Further up the hierarchy of subtlety, beliefs can be changed only when our intents or goals are changed (at the level of the ego). If we want to achieve something different, then we would be inclined to believe differently. For example, I might believe that science can never be used to prove the existence of God. No matter what anyone says, I will use my belief to judge someone’s claim, and no matter how convincing the argument, I can still reject it based on the premise that this might all be a very elaborate illusion.
Until, of course, I change my goal: namely, I might develop a desire to use science to prove the existence of God. Once I develop that desire, my belief system automatically undergoes an important change: I start recognizing that it should be possible to achieve such a goal, and then contrary and favorable evidence is evaluated with the aim to achieve the goal—e.g. the contrary evidence becomes how I should not try to fulfill the goal, while the favorable evidence becomes the method by which I can fulfill the goal. In short, if I already have a predetermined belief, only a change in goals can bring about a difference.
If we have a goal, then no amount of external evidence may be sufficient to change it. For example, someone might think that she has been unsuccessful on a hundred previous attempts but might succeed in the very next attempt. No matter how many times you fail, your conviction about success can keep getting stronger, and your determination to achieve the goal can fly in the face of all failure. The only way to wean someone off a futile goal is to make a change in their value system where they consider the goal to no longer be valuable. For example, you might feel that your time is better spent on other worthy goals. If your values have changed, then your goals can be changed. Therefore, you have to seek happiness in another way, and that quest will in turn change your goals.
This intuitive description of human psychology underlies the Sāńkhya model of the mind, intellect, ego, and mahattattva. The mahattattva is our moral values, which are chosen by consciousness. Once these values are changed, our goals are altered automatically. Once the goals are altered, the beliefs are automatically modified. As the beliefs are modified, the concepts in the mind are automatically revised. The revision of concepts in the mind leads to a shift in sensations, which then leads to the perception of different sense objects. In other words, change happens from inside out, not outside in. To bring about a change in our experiences, we have to change ourselves, rather than the world.
The Four Forms of God
Vedic texts describe how these four subtle elements are “ruled” by four forms of God, namely, Vasudeva (mahattattva – the moral sense), Saṅkarṣaṇa (ego – the intentions and goals), Pradyumna (intellect – beliefs and judgments), and Aniruddha (mind – concepts).
The mode of goodness, which is the clear, sober status of understanding the Personality of Godhead and which is generally called Vāsudeva, or consciousness, becomes manifest in the mahattattva. (SB 3.26.21)
The mind of the living entity is known by the name of Lord Aniruddha, the supreme ruler of the senses. He possesses a bluish-black form resembling a lotus flower growing in the autumn. He is found slowly by the yogīs. (SB 3.26.28)
Our dear Lord, You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, and You are also the supreme enjoyer. You have now appeared as the son of Vasudeva, a manifestation of the state of pure goodness. You are the predominating Deities of mind and intelligence, Aniruddha and Pradyumna, and You are the Lord of all Vaiṣṇavas. (Krishna Book 16)
The three types of egotism (ahaṅkāra) are technically known as vaikārika, taijasa and tāmasa. The mahattattva is situated within the heart, or citta, and the predominating Deity of the mahattattva is Lord Vāsudeva (Bhāg. 3.26.21). The mahat-tattva is transformed into three divisions: (1) vaikārika, egotism in goodness (sāttvika-ahaṅkāra), from which is manifested the eleventh sense organ, the mind, whose predominating Deity is Aniruddha (Bhāg. 3.26.27-28); (2) taijasa, or egotism in passion (rājasa-ahaṅkāra), from which are manifested the active and knowledge-acquiring senses, along with the intelligence, whose predominating Deity is Lord Pradyumna (Bhāg. 3.26.29-31); and (3) tāmasa, or egotism in ignorance, from which sound vibration (śabda-tanmātra) expands. From sound vibration, the sky (ākāśa) is manifested, and then the senses, beginning with the sense of hearing, are also manifested (Bhāg. 3.26.32). Of these three types of egotism, Lord Saṅkarṣaṇa is the predominating Deity. In the philosophical discourse known as the Sāṅkhya-kārikā, it is stated, sāttvika ekādaśakaḥ pravartate vaikṛtād ahaṅkārāt — bhūtādes tan-mātraṁ tāmasa-taijasādy-ubhayam. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta – Madhya 20.276 Purport)
This leads to the question: How is God connected to matter? How is He “ruling” a material element? This question is problematic because matter is an illusion in Sāńkhya. If God is connected to an illusion, does it mean that God is also an illusion? If God is connected to matter, then by the old mind-body interaction problem, God too must be material?
This problem requires a shift in understanding matter and spirit. Matter and spirit are two different substances in Cartesian Dualism, most of Western philosophy, and even in Christianity. In Sāńkhya, however, matter and spirit are two kinds of ideas, judgments, intents, and morals. Matter is false ideas, bad judgments, evil intentions, and corrupt morals. Spirit is true ideas, good judgments, pure intentions, and virtuous morals. There is no fundamental difference in “substance” between matter and spirit, as far as our perception goes (there are some differences which I will cover shortly).
God, even in the material world, creates all the ideas, judgments, intentions, and morals, from His own form. The form of Vasudeva is the original form of virtuous morality from which a number of corrupt moralities are created. The form of Saṅkarṣaṇa is the original form of pure intention from which a number of evil intentions are created. The form of Pradyumna is the original form of good judgment from which a number of bad judgments are created. The form of Aniruddha is the original true concept, from which a number of false concepts are created. God is pure and perfect. But God is also the origin of the impure and the imperfect. The impure and imperfect are connected to the pure and perfect by a process of distortion, modification, filtration, and unwanted amendment.
Matter is the mirror in which God is reflected, but the mirror is distorted. Therefore, God’s reflection is also distorted, and the perfect becomes imperfect. We must note that all the concepts, judgments, intents, and morals are created in unmanifest forms or possibilities. God is not forcing us to accept them. It is the soul or the jiva who accepts them.
Four Different Spaces
All these ideas can be summarized succinctly into a scientific format in which mind, intellect, ego, and mahattattva are different kinds of “spaces”. At the “origin” or “center” of this space exist the pure and perfect idea, judgment, intent, and morality. However, as you move away from the center, the ideas, judgments, intents, and morals are increasingly distorted. The basic insight here is that as we move away from God (and “away” has a literal meaning in terms of a “distance” in a space), the pure and perfect become impure and imperfect. God is the origin of the space, the different distortions of the original form are different “distances” from God which constitute the material energy. In other words, material energy is nothing but “distance” from God or the center of perfection.
The center of the space is singular, and as we go outward from the center we get more and more diversity. The center combines opposites and the boundaries are opposites. The center is the whole, and the periphery are the parts. The center is complex and the periphery is simple. The periphery is produced from the center by hiding aspects of the original and pure form.
For example, if you want to create a new idea, you start with the original form of Aniruddha (also called Paramātma) who represents the perfect object-concept. Then you can successively hide features of the perfect object-concept to get an imperfect object-concept. Each successive attempt at hiding creates a greater “distance” from Aniruddha and after many such limitations have been applied on the pure concept, then we get a new form that we call our new idea. This new idea is based on an original and pure idea, but it is non-ideal. In that sense, we can never describe the new idea without talking about the original idea. And hence Aniruddha is “inside” the distorted idea, but He is actually hidden from our vision due to many obscurations.
The perfect yogi can see how all ideas have expanded from a pure idea. Thus the pure yogi is able to cut through these ideas and see Paramātma in everything. This “seeing” is realizing that all ideas are created from an original idea by hiding. If we try to understand the origin of all ideas, then we will ultimately end up with the perfect idea—Paramātma. As we get more involved in material energy, we are going farther from perfection: i.e. we see the less and less ideal things but we cannot see perfection from which the modified idea is created. Only when we go towards the center, we slowly ignore the changes and seek out the original pure form.
The process of yoga or meditation is to seek out the “origin” or the “center” of the space of concepts, judgments, intentions, and morals. We are seeking the form of true ideas, best judgments, purest intentions, and the most virtuous moral values. These forms can be known as we focus on the origin of all ideas, judgments, intents, and morals. As we search for perfection in our life, we go towards the center of our mahattattva, ego, intellect, and the mind, where we see the pure and perfect forms called Vasudeva, Saṅkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha. Yoga, therefore, means focusing the subtle senses on their spatial origin, where we can find the source of everything, which is the perfection of everything.
The living being is wandering in the four kinds of material spaces mentioned above. God creates this space but does not ask the living being to wander. The living being is wandering in this space—accepting previously created false ideas, bad judgments, evil intentions, and corrupt morals. While God is the creator of everything, He is not the one who accepts or chooses these things. He remains at the center and is, therefore “away” from every kind of imperfection. The jiva is, however, roaming on the imperfect land, and has a choice to go towards the center where lie perfection and purity.
The Relation to Hierarchical Space
Each such distortion on the original idea (to produce a new idea) is like a branch emanating from the root. The root is perfect, but as additional distortions are applied, new branches are created. As more distortion is applied, a twig is created. As even more distortion is applied, a fruit is created. So, the succession of distortions is producing the material trunks, branches, and fruits, but from the pure and perfect root.
God is connected to the material world, and yet He is not imperfect and impure. The reason is that the impure and imperfect world is created by the material energy as a succession of hierarchical distortions. The things that we see are distorted, but that distortion cannot exist unless there is a pure and original form. Therefore, without God, there is no material world—because the material world is a distortion of God. The material energy only provides many ways to distort. But there must be a substrate that this energy can modify. That substrate being modified is the different forms of God.
In essence, there is a tree of false ideas, wrong judgments, evil intentions, and corrupt morals. The root of this tree is pure and perfect, while the trunks, branches, leaves, and fruits emanating from this root are successively farther from God, and this “distance” in space indicates the level of their imperfection or distortion away from God.
What This Means For Science
I will now try to make this theological view relevant to science, using the ideas employed in wireless communications. I’m sure you have used a wireless phone. The phone operates on the principle called modulation in which a base “carrier wave” is modified through a succession of other waves. The original “carrier wave” is what the government of the country auctions to the cellular service providers. This “carrier wave” is everywhere—in our house, inside your body, and in your offices—and is the base on which all modifications are applied. The modifications are called modulations in which the base is modified by adding a distortion.
The figure above describes this process. Note how there are three signals in this process. The “carrier signal” is the original form of the wave. On this “carrier signal,” we add a distortion called “information signal”. And by adding this distortion we obtain a new signal. In the above example, the distortion changes the amplitude of the wave, and therefore this is also called amplitude modulation or AM. This is, of course, not the only modulation type. There are other types such as frequency modulation, phase modulation, chirp modulation, and so forth. In short, the original signal can be distorted in many ways, and these distortions produce a new form from an original form—called the “carrier signal”.
If you are using a cellular phone, then your phone receives a particular type of distorted signal. Nevertheless, it is inherently capable of discovering the original signal (through what we call out-of-band signaling). The phone takes the distorted signal, and removes the original signal from it, to obtain the distortion which we call “information”. This process of recovering the information is called demodulation in communication theory.
Modulation and Quantum Theory
Now that we have understood an everyday technological example, we can bring it closer to quantum theory, where the combination of the “carrier wave” and the “distortion” is called superposition. The quantum wavefunction is composed of eigenfunctions like a complex wave is comprised of elementary waves. The new idea that we are now adding is that there is an “original wave” called the “carrier wave” on which a succession of distortions is applied. Present quantum theory is linear in the sense that it does not accept an “original wave”. Therefore, you cannot say that the components of the universe are organized hierarchically—i.e. from base to the first distortion to second distortion, etc. You just suppose that you can combine them in any order. And that is the flaw.
If you see how quantum theory is used practically in the day-to-day world, we reject this linearity and choose a particular “carrier wave” or “original form”. Then we apply a well-defined succession of distortions on the “carrier wave” to obtain a new wave. In other words, we are not supposing that waves are combined in any arbitrary order. We are rather combining them in a particular order. Quantum theory doesn’t accept this idea (within the theory), although it is used in technological applications by making a specific kind of “design” of the communication system. The result is that the theory cannot predict the order in which each of the waves will appear one by one, and this inability to predict the order of the wave addition results in the famous Quantum Measurement Problem.
Now let’s modify this idea of modulation slightly. The carrier wave is the whole truth, and the successive modifications on that wave are hiding parts of the whole to produce something new, which is also slighly worse than the original thing. A modulation is therefore a negation that removes ideality. Now, we can clearly see that there must be a natural order in which an original form is successively hidden by adding layers of negations to the ideal thing.
This succession forms a tree emanating from a root. The original idea in this tree is also a form and sound vibration, but it is modified by successive forms and vibrations. The result of these modifications obfuscates the original form from our vision, but if we study nature in the right way, then we can seek out the original form and sound vibration from the material world. This is scientific, it is the process of yoga, and is also a perfect understanding of spirituality.
Atomic Theory and Meanings
If you are given a set of billiard balls, you can jumble them around, and you will still have the same balls. If, however, you are given a set of words, and you jumble them around, you will still have the same words, but you will lose the original meanings. A specific order becomes necessary when material objects are symbols of meanings. At present, science studies atoms as physical entities without meanings. Sāńkhya describes these same entities as concepts—e.g. my sensation is not a frequency, but redness.
The reason for the hierarchy is that matter is not just sensations but also meanings (followed by judgments, intents, and morals). This hierarchy is missing in quantum theory because the theory is linear rather than hierarchical. The deeper scientific reason for this linearity is the use of flat space-time rather than a hierarchical space-time.
The treatment of atomic objects as meanings is not yet another “interpretation” of quantum theory. It is the interpretation that will fix its problems of probability, and demonstrate that when atoms are treated as concepts, then each atom (concept) we perceive is actually built from a succession of distortions on the original concept. The original concept exists in all atoms, although it is none of those atoms.
The true understanding of atomic reality will, therefore, establish the existence of Paramātma or Aniruddha as the origin of all concepts. This form of God exists in all concepts, as the original concept, or the root of the concept tree. And therefore we can never describe an atom completely without describing the original idea. The solution to the problems of atomic theory is scientific, but it is not a materialistic solution.
Can We Empirically Perceive God?
Note that when your cellular phone receives a signal, it doesn’t separately receive the “carrier wave”. Rather, only the combined signal (original wave and its distortions) is received, and then an a priori knowledge of the “carrier wave” is used to derive the distortion from the combined wave. Therefore, we are not perceiving the original “carrier wave” and we don’t expect to. We rather assume a carrier wave and use it to perform a calculation by which communication works. In that sense, the original wave is not empirical, and yet it is empirically verified when the communication technology works.
This is a subtle but important distinction that must be understood in order to grasp the nature of meaning and concepts. Most scientific concepts (e.g. electron, proton, mass, charge, etc.) are never empirically measured. What we measure are position and time, and all other scientific concepts (electron, proton, mass, charge, etc.) are intrinsically confirmed when the theory that employs these concepts is empirically proven to work.
In the same way, we don’t expect to see Paramātma by our senses, because He is the original idea, and therefore more abstract than every idea in the mind. All ideas in the mind are more abstract than the senses, which are more abstract than the tanmātra or properties, which are more abstract than the sense objects. What we see is the sense objects (e.g. redness). But if my scientific theory works, then by validating these sense objects, we automatically validate the properties, the senses, the mind, and their origin—Paramātma. This might seem novel to some people, but this is indeed how science works, and the reason is that all scientific concepts (except position and time) are more subtle than the sense objects and they cannot be understood simply by sensual observation.
Thus, you can measure the value of momentum in a particular object, but you cannot measure the idea of momentum itself. The sense perception enables us to see certain contingent entities, but not the abstract entities. Paramātma is the most abstract concept from which the mind and then all the other concepts are derived. We cannot perceive the most abstract concept using a contingent instrument. But a theory that employs this concept can still be verified, and that collectively validates all its intrinsic concepts.
The Paramātma can only be perceived by the Atma or the soul, but science can prove the Paramātma by a theory of atomic phenomena that predicts without probabilities. Most people think that empirical verification means direct perception and to prove the existence of God, you have to “see” God by your present eyes. Only a person who hasn’t studied or understood science would make that claim because it is evident from the question that he or she does not understand the difference between direct perception and empirical verification and thereby the process by which science actually verifies its concepts. Most people believe that science has actually “measured” the existence of electrons, protons, mass, charge, momentum, energy, etc. when science only measures two properties—position and time. Everything else is a theoretical construct that is never measured but still considered verified when position and time are measured as predicted.
The concept of empirical verification is different from that of direct perception. Empiricism is not about perception. It is rather about measuring the occurrence of an event in space and time and using it to infer the truth of concepts that are never measured. By that standard, God is empirical, although God is not amenable to sense perception.
Can science prove the existence of God? Of course, it can, provided we understand what we mean by “proof”, which is no different from how science “proves” the existence of electrons, protons, mass, charge, energy, momentum, etc. Can science help us perceive God? No, it cannot. For that perception, we have to develop our consciousness to perceive a subtle reality—i.e. the original concept. However, the empirical proof of God sets up the motivation for obtaining direct perception. In short, God is a scientific concept, which can be empirically verified in science. But God is not a reality that you can directly perceive by the senses. Once the difference between perception and empiricism is understood, the problem of “Can you show me God?” turns out to be nothing but a misconception.
Eternal and Temporary Truths
The verse Bhagavad-Gita 2.16 presents some challenges to the knowledge of God in the material world, and understanding this verse is key to understanding how science can be a valid method of knowledge even for spiritual knowledge, although it has never been prescribed earlier in Vedic texts as a legitimate process of spiritual enlightenment.
nasato vidyate bhavo
nabhavo vidyate satah
ubhayor api drsto ‘ntas
tv anayos tattva-darsibhih
There are two important words here—satah and vidyate. The word satah means the truth, and vidyate means exists. The verse says that only the truth exists, and whatever ceases to exist is untrue. The problem resulting from this claim is that since the material world is temporary there cannot be any truth in this material world. The four forms of God which exist inside the universe must be annihilated as the universe is annihilated. In other words, these forms of God must be temporary, and whatever is temporary is untrue. The result of the inference is called māyāvāda—namely that the world is an illusion. According to this, even the forms of God in the scriptures are temporary, and therefore they are illusions. Only a complete rejection of all forms—including those of God—entails transcendence.
Śrīla Prabhupāda translates this verse as follows, calling satah as existent and asatah as nonexistent.
Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that of the nonexistent there is no endurance, and of the existent, there is no cessation. The seers have concluded by studying the nature of both.
Even with this translation we still have the problem that something which exists (e.g. a form of God) ceases to exist at the end of the universe. Since that which becomes nonexistent has no endurance, these forms of God must not endure beyond the present manifestation. The conclusion would be that these are temporary forms and therefore unreal. This is a grave problem in Vedic epistemology as it leads to the view that anything temporary must be false. Since deities of God and scriptures are established and lost, they are temporary. Since truth cannot be temporary, all this must be false.
The conclusions of māyāvāda pervade our world—including Vaishnavism—which overtly seems to reject māyāvāda. The māyāvāda conclusion appears inside Vaishnavism when a Vaishnava rejects that matter gives us true knowledge of God. The widespread belief is that matter is temporary, and therefore false. So, how could the false and temporary world give us an understanding of the eternal transcendent reality? How can there be Supreme Truth in material reality? The fact that Paramātma exists with all atomic objects and the fact that other forms of God are found in intelligence, ego, and mahattattva is generally forgotten, or not easily reconciled with the dominant māyāvāda view that the material world is ultimately an illusion and cannot provide knowledge. Ultimately, the māyāvāda rejection of truth in matter wins and the quest for truth in matter is discarded.
The answer to this problem is that science is not a wrong method but it is a temporary method. The knowledge from this method is not false. However, the method itself is not eternal. The method is asat, but now asat is the negation of sat or eternity. In the material world, we can obtain true knowledge of God by rejecting the material distortions. Hence, this knowledge is called neti-neti (not this, not that). It is a negative approach to knowledge because the material energy produces the world by negating God. To know the truth, we have to negate the negation. Since sat denotes the truth, asat denotes the denial of the truth. Now, the above verse can also be translated as “the denial of the truth has no permanent existence”. Conversely, if you negate the denial, then you obtain the satah and this satah has no cessation. Therefore, the form of God that we uncover by the negation of the negation is eternal, but the method of negation is itself temporary.
The conclusion is that there are some methods to the truth—e.g. deity worship, chanting the holy names, etc.—which are eternal. There are also other methods—e.g. scientific and philosophical study of matter—which are temporary. The knowledge from these methods can be eternal. However, all the methods are not eternal. Therefore, scientific and philosophical studies do not exist in the transcendent world. However, the truth uncovered by this study still exists. If we reject that truth, then we succumb to māyāvāda where even deity worship would be an illusion because the material world is itself false.