Vedic Form vs. Western Shape

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The Greek Ideas of Form and Shape

The Western idea of forms began with Platonism in which ideas like beauty, justice, truth, etc. resided in a Platonic world of forms. Platonism was the attempt to depersonalize pagan religions in which demigods and God resided in another world and each of them personified a different idea. There were demigods of love, war, wealth, rain, sunshine, air, harvest, music, and so on. Each deity had a different appearance, weapon, and vehicle. They lived as a slightly competitive family in a heaven beyond the earth with God as the head of the family. Pagan religions offered these deities worship, which included ritualistic animal sacrifices. Plato depersonalized pagan religions by separating the ideas the deities embodied from the person that embodied them. He came up with a world of forms, by which he meant pure ideas, that were no longer persons.

However, after removing the person from the idea, nobody could visualize the Platonic forms. The only forms they could imagine were geometrical shapes such as triangles, squares, and circles. Therefore, Aristotle divided Platonic forms into theoretical and practical. Triangles, squares, and circles were included in theoretical forms while beauty, justice, and truth were included in practical forms. Rigorous scientific analysis could be applied to theoretical forms, but not to practical forms. Democracy—or popular opinion—was used to decide the nature of practical forms.

After Aristotle, therefore, the word “form” came to mean “shape”. Gradually, these shapes were reduced to surfaces, lines, and points, and all the points were equivalent. Now, by shape people meant the mathematical formula that described the interrelationships between points. The point became the “substance” comprising the world and the mathematical equation became the “form” that joined these points into an observable reality. All reality was a combination of substance and form, or points and formulas. The points lived in this world and the formulas lived in the Platonic world.

The Alternative Vedic Concept of Form

The Vedic concept of form is not the Aristotelian idea of shape because there is no distinction between form and substance in Vedic thinking. The whole world is forms. Forms are organized in a hierarchy. The higher-level form combines lower-level forms to produce additional forms. There is no such thing as an infinitesimal point. Whatever we call a “point” is some color, shape, size, taste, smell, and name, all of which are forms. Accordingly, form doesn’t reside in another world of pure forms. The forms pervade this word as the only reality. There are fundamental forms and derived forms. There is a logic by which fundamental forms are combined to generate derived forms which we can designate “science”.

The most fundamental form—at the top of the form hierarchy—is that of a person. The person-form progressively combines lower-level forms such as morals, intentions, beliefs, concepts, properties, and values to generate a body of the person, which looks like a “shape” although it is a form derived by combining fundamental forms. The fundamental forms have enormous variety. There are many kinds of truths, beauties, justices, smells, tastes, sights, touches, and sounds. The person who embodies one of these acquires a body such that his body parts represent the diversity or variety within a form.

For example, truth is a body in which the truths that can be heard are the ears, the truths that can be heard and touched are the skin, the truths that can be heard, touched, and seen are the eyes, the truths that can be heard, touched, seen, and tasted are the tongue, and the truths that can be heard, touched, seen, tasted, and smelt and the nose. Similarly, the power of speaking the truth is the organ of speech, the power of protecting the truth is the hands, the power of the truth to go to many places are the legs, the power to create derived truths from the fundamental truths are the genitals, and the power to reject falsehoods is the anus. Likewise, the power to judge if something is true is the intellect, the power to judge if that truth is also good is the ego, and the power to determine if the good truth is also righteous is the moral sense. Finally, the capacity to summarize all the truths into a simple truth, desire that simple truth, and understand that simple truth is the mind.

The truth is not just an idea. The power to defend the truth is a part of the truth. The power to spread itself to many individuals is part of the truth. The power to expand a fundamental truth into derived truths is part of the truth. The capacity of the truth to live eternally is part of the truth. There is a hunger in truth to discover more of itself. There is a hunger in truth to make itself more beautiful. There is a hunger in truth to express itself in increasing ways that can be heard, touched, seen, tasted, and smelt. There is a hunger in a fundamental truth to live in harmony with many derived truths.

Forms Known Through Different Effects

Each person has multiple faculties such as the five senses, the mind to think, the intellect to judge the truth, right, and good, and the soul to choose a different kind of enjoyment, ability, and environment. Whatever we call shape is one part of the effect of something on one of these faculties—the eyes. But there is so much more to reality than the shape we see. There are sensations of odor, flavor, hardness, roughness, heat, color, pitch, tone, and syllables. There are infinite different types of thoughts, feelings, judgments, intentions, and values. Who can imagine all these being reduced merely to shape?

The difference between form and shape can be seen through the example of the pure form of truth. When this form interacts with a person, it triggers the sensation of shape in the eyes. But that is not all. It also triggers the understanding of the truth in the mind, transforms the intellect to judge the truth of everything else relative to the truth, creates an attraction in the person toward the truth, and transforms his life into one that is devoted to the truth. Perception of the pure form of beauty, similarly, triggers the sensation of shape in the eyes. But that is not all. It also triggers the understanding of beauty in the mind, alters the intellect to judge the beauty of everything else relative to the pure form of beauty, creates an attraction in the person toward this beauty, and transforms his life into that of an artist, poet, musician, dancer, and writer expressing beauty.

An identical effect of shape can be produced in the eyes by a plastic figurine. But that figurine would not produce the effects on the other sensations, thoughts, judgments, intentions, and morals. The perception of a plastic figurine would not transform a person’s life. He would not become truthful or artistic by such observation. The forms of truth and beauty are therefore not the same as the shape ascribed to the body. The shape acts only on the eyes. The form acts on the entire persona and transforms that persona radically.

The Vedic concept of form is that of a person with unique traits. Each part of the person’s body performs different functions, and the person controls these functions to realize himself, express himself, and enjoy himself. Each form has a division of labor in itself. That division of labor is part of the form as its varied powers. Truth, beauty, and justice are not inert. They have the powers to know, defend, expand, and enjoy themselves. Due to this division of labor in the form, each form is one thing and yet many things.

The Results of Depersonalizing Forms

When these forms are depersonalized, then the person loses his body and ceases to be a person. The person is reduced to an idea that lies inert devoid of its powers. Truth, beauty, and justice now have no power to know, defend, expand, or enjoy themselves. The dynamic person becomes a static idea. Depersonalization is the death of all forms and their eternal mummification to become exhibition pieces in a museum called the Platonic World. Since the mummy is inert, there is no functional difference between the different parts of the mummy. The nose, tongue, eyes, skin, and ears of the mummy cannot function as the body parts function in an alive person. Therefore, when Plato stripped personhood from pagan religions to conceive of a Platonic world, he transformed all living deities into dead mummies.

Subsequent Greeks reduced even these mummies to geometrical shapes such as triangles, squares, and circles. Each point in these shapes was identical to the other points. The points in the shapes could not function as nose, tongue, eyes, skin, and ears. Every part of the shape was equivalent to the other parts. Only the whole shape was different from the points comprising the shape and it was denoted by a mathematical formula. Greeks started regarding mathematical formulas as the only eternal truth.

The Vedic and Greek ideas on forms are as different as life and death. When the idea of Platonic forms was extended to the world, the term “dead matter” came to be considered a universal truth. The problem of reconciling life with death then arose and it was “solved” by creating a mind-body dualism. How dead matter becomes a alive body was then attributed to the entry of a mind and soul into dead matter. Since dead matter was governed by mathematics and the alive mind had free will, a new problem of the will interfering with the mathematical laws of nature then arose. This problem was “solved” by saying that the mind doesn’t exist, there is no will, and a body animated by mathematical laws was considered a living body. The problem of how dead matter smells, tastes, sees, touches, or hears was postponed to the future.

All Abrahamic faiths follow Greek ideology which has been their path out of blind faith into rationality. Since Greek rationality emerged out of disdain for pagan religions, therefore, all Abrahamic faiths have inherited the same love of depersonalization and disdain for pagan religions. Since Greek ideology is false—you can never reduce forms to shapes—all Abrahamic faiths repeatedly face repudiation. They solve their repudiation by going back to blind faith and asserting their superiority through a violent acquisition of wealth and power.

Aggression is an innate feature of all Abrahamic faiths because their entire ideological system is riddled with the problems given to them by Greek ideologies. The failure of Greek ideologies requires us to go back to pagan religions. But that is an unacceptable solution for Abrahamic faiths. They have imbibed and accepted Greek thinking for so long that it is impossible to abandon it now.

Vedic Form Yields a Sacred Geometry

Even as the Vedic concept of form is not the Aristotelian idea of geometrical shape, an alternative kind of geometry is constructed from the Vedic idea of form in which each direction (e.g., East, West, North, and South) is fundamentally different. We can swap East with West in Euclidean geometry but we cannot do that in Vedic geometry. This is because space and form in the Vedic sense are not symmetrical. We have to remember the geometrical definition of symmetry here—it means two points can be mutually swapped.

Accordingly, the Aristotelian idea of form leads to an Euclidean idea of geometry as the study of symmetric shapes but no such symmetry exists in the Vedic concept of form. The East is different from the West. The North is different from the South. We cannot rotate something and say that the result is indistinguishable from the prior state. Every rotation leads to a verifiable change. Therefore, up and down, left and right, forward and backward are symmetric in Aristotelian-Euclidean geometry but they are not symmetric in Vedic geometry because the Vedic system is thinking of form in terms of a person whose front and back, up and down, left and right, are not identical swappable parts.

We can demarcate these two ideas of geometry as sacred and mundane. Vedic ideas of geometry rest on the idea of form as a person and they constitute sacred geometry. Greek ideas of geometry rest on the idea of form as circles, triangles, and squares comprising identical or swappable points and they constitute mundane geometry. Accordingly, a sacred architecture treats the universe as a body called Virāta Puruṣa in which the locations cannot be swapped. Conversely, mundane architecture treats the universe as essentially uniform everywhere such that the directions and locations can be mutually swapped.

Traditional Cultures Used Sacred Geometry

When a Vedic architect constructs a house, he treats space as the resting place of a person in which the directions and locations cannot be swapped. In sacred architecture, there is a fixed place for a cooking, defecating, sleeping, entertainment, study, worship, and so on. When a Western architect constructs a house, all the directions and locations can be swapped. There is no fixed place for a kitchen, toilet, bedroom, living room, study room, temple, and so on. Vedic and Western architects follow sacred and mundane geometries.

The study of traditional temples, pyramids, and other structures reveals that buildings were precisely aligned with cosmic directions, and different functional parts of the building were placed in different directions relative to the whole structure. Locations and directions have special meanings in all traditional cultures. Such alignment with directions and the placement in different parts is absent in modern and even historical Western architecture. This is because of sacred and mundane geometries.

The rare cases in which we find Western architectures precisely aligned to directions with the placement of functions in different parts relative to the whole are the work of Masons who were following both sacred and mundane geometries. Masons (who later became Freemasons) used sacred geometry to design a building and mundane geometry to ensure mathematical precision. Western mathematicians borrowed mundane geometry from Masons and Freemasons and discarded sacred geometry due to the effect of Christianity that depersonalized the world. They converted all forms into shapes. The idea of shape as something comprising identical points became the impersonalism of the material world after that.

Factually, there are no infinitesimal points, let alone identical points. Everything that we can perceive by the senses is some smell, taste, sight, touch, and sound. No two apples, oranges, trees, leaves, birds, or humans are identical. The universality in the universe is that of fundamental forms that combine to produce infinite variety such that the postulates of uniformity of the universe are completely false. The infinite variety can be summarized simply if we unite this variety into a personal form, and describe this person through a meaningful name. Without persons, there is infinite variety in the universe that can never be summarized into a mathematical equation.

The Abrahamic Genesis of Iconoclasm

Once the Abrahamic cultures depersonalized the world, they could never transform any shape back to a sacred form. The sacred symbols of Abrahamic faiths are shapes that cannot be given a sacred interpretation because neither the constituent points nor the collective shape is sacred. The squiggles printed on paper cannot be called a sacred book, because all those squiggles are shapes that cannot be given any meaning because all ideas were previously reduced to shapes by the Greeks.

One consequence of this reduction is that Abrahamic faiths must reduce God’s form to a mathematical equation because it is nothing more than a shape which is nothing more than a collection of points combined by a mathematical equation. In the way that material objects are combinations of substance and forms, or points and formulas, God too must be divided into a substance and form, the substance must be equated to points and the form to a mathematical formula. God’s form cannot have a special status when it is just a shape, no better than any other material shape.

This is why many prominent scientists think that God is a mathematical equation that completely describes all phenomena in the world. Of course, since no such equation has been found, therefore, God also remains a hypothetical entity. If we find that all the phenomena cannot be described using a single equation, then the failure to find a single equation would become the non-existence of God.

The Abrahamic postulate of a personal God is now an anti-scientific idea. Religion requires a covenant which are only signed by persons. Thus, God is a mathematical formula in science and a person in religion. The dichotomy between these two ideas is irresolvable. Abrahamic faiths are thus caught between personalism and impersonalism—God must be a person to sign a covenant but God cannot be a person if He has a shape reducible to a mathematical equation. The double standard of personalism and impersonalism is the conflict between religion and science.

The iconoclasm of Abrahamic faiths is the result of their double standard of impersonalism and personalism, which began with the depersonalization of nature, and was extended to convert all form into shape, resulting in the problem that if we draw an image of God, then it has a shape, which must be reduced to a mathematical equation, so that shape cannot be sacred. But by the same standard of iconoclasm, God in heaven also has a shape, which also cannot be sacred. Iconoclasm applies a double standard for shapes in this world (reducing them to a mathematical equation) and the other world (not reducing them to a mathematical equation). Without this double standard, Abrahamic God would not be sacred; however, with this double standard, the sacredness of God in heaven is simply indefensible. If the same principles are applied uniformly then the Abrahamic depersonalization of nature will become the Abrahamic depersonalization of God.

Reverting to a Personal Idea of Form

In the Vedic texts, God is described as jñānam advayam (SB 1.2.11) which means non-dual knowledge. Dualism means that the properties of one part are excluded from the properties of other parts. For example, the tongue cannot see and the eyes cannot taste. Non-duality means that even as there are many parts, the properties of one part are not excluded from the properties of other parts. For example, God can see with His tongue and taste with His eyes. His eyes prominently function as His part used for seeing but they can also function as the part used for tasting. Similarly, His tongue prominently functions as His part used for tasting but it can also function as the part used for seeing. Since each part does one function prominently, therefore, there are many parts. Since each part can also function as the other parts, therefore, no part is the exclusion of the other parts. This property is called non-duality.

Since this non-dual form is the form of knowledge, therefore, there are different divisions in knowledge that are prominently employed for one function but they can also be employed for other functions. For example, we can use cosmology as one division of knowledge prominently for studying the universe. But we can use the same division of knowledge to study the body or a society as a universe. We can use biology as one division of knowledge prominently to study the human body. But we can use the same division of knowledge to study a society or the universe as a body. We can prominently use sociology as one division of knowledge to study society. But we can use the same division of knowledge to study the body and the universe as a society. The body and society are a universe. The universe and society are a body. The body and universe are a society. This is the template of the non-dualistic system of knowledge.

Under this template, one division of knowledge is used prominently for one purpose. But it can also be used for all other purposes. Biology, sociology, and cosmology are not mutually exclusive let alone contradictory subjects. They are rather like God’s eyes and tongue—the eyes are prominently used for seeing but they can be used also for tasting and the tongue is used prominently for tasting but it can also be used for seeing. True knowledge is always non-dualistic knowledge because truth is non-dualistic. Anyone who conceives a biology separate from cosmology separate from sociology is creating a system of dualistic knowledge which is not true even if it seems practically useful in limited contexts.

Drawing a picture of God is just like drawing a map of knowledge. All scientists draw maps of their respective subjects placing different subdivisions of their domain on different parts of the map. Even as that map has a shape, we don’t reduce that shape to a mathematical equation because the points on the map are not identical. For example, if we draw a map of mathematics, then different parts of the map will be arithmetic, algebra, geometry, combinatorics, probability, calculus, and so on. This map has a shape but no mathematical equation will recreate the whole of mathematics. After all, each mathematical equation is simply one small part of mathematics that cannot cover the whole.

When we call God the whole truth, we mean that parts of His body are partial truths. The whole body is the whole truth and parts of the body are partial truths. The partial truths are not incomplete because each part can be used for any function. But they are prominently used for one function, therefore, they are parts relative to other parts used for other functions. Thus, when the Vedic system draws a picture of God, it is presenting a map of truths. The map is a shape but the shape is not the map.

The Genesis of Dualistic Knowledge

Greeks had called truth, beauty, and justice forms. Their idea of form could be extended to taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight. This is because form is defined in relation to consciousness. Anything that can be desired, enjoyed, known, used, and possessed is a form. Shapes such as circles, squares, and triangles are a small subset of ideas that can be desired, enjoyed, known, used, and possessed. Therefore, a form is always a shape but a shape is not always a form. Truth, beauty, and justice are forms with shapes. But triangles, cirles, and squares are not truth, beauty, and justice. The forms can be heard, touched, seen, tasted, and smelt, which are also forms and yet not shapes. Therefore, the reduction of form to shape is woefully inadequate and false.

When we say that the world is form, we mean that it is some truth, beauty, and justice that can be heard, touched, seen, tasted, and smelt, none of which are shapes. Rather shape is a part of the complete truth, beauty, and justice and all that can be heard, touched, seen, tasted, and smelt.

Forms are studied as qualities while shapes are studied as quantities. The historical examination of ideas of shapes and forms reveals the gradual quantification of qualities. Plato initially conceived of diverse forms. Aristotle then divided these forms into theoretical and practical. The theoretical forms comprised arithmetic and geometry. The practical forms comprised truth, beauty, justice, sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell. Abrahamic faiths then reduced the material world to theoretical forms. As science developed based on these theoretical forms, it completely destroyed the understanding of practical forms. Instead of calling shape one of the numerous forms, the scientific worldview tries to reduce all forms to shape. Of course, that attempt at reduction is futile. The shape of truth helps us see the truth with our eyes. It doesn’t reduce the truth to the visible shape.

The incompleteness of modern science is the result of the failed attempt to reduce form to shape. We cannot reduce truth, beauty, justice, smell, taste, sight, touch, and sound to geometry and arithmetic. In fact, in trying to reduce, we get dualistic knowledge, in which one type of formula and geometry incompletely models the form and complete knowledge of the form requires infinite formulas and geometries. Basically, form can never be known if we try to describe form in terms of shapes. Rather, infinite contradictory and incomplete theories are produced in trying to reduce forms to shapes.

Shapes Cannot Explain Ordinary Change

Shapes can be reduced to surfaces. Surfaces can be reduced to lines. Lines can be reduced to points. Points can be reduced to numbers. Numbers can be reduced to a finite set of symbols—digits, a decimal point, and letters denoting dimensions. All symbols can be reduced to a sequence of 1s and 0s. 1s and 0s can be reduced to the binary logical state of true and false. By “true” we mean existence and by “false” we mean non-existence. Existence can now be called an ocean and non-existence can be called holes punched in that ocean. In the worldview of shapes, all reality is reduced to an ocean with many holes. Whenever we see a hole, we call that digit 0, and whenever we see an ocean, we call that digit 1.

The problem is that both 1 and 0 are causally inert. 1 and 0 cannot produce many copies of themselves. If many copies of 1s and 0s have been created, they cannot combine and separate. Without the combination and separation of 1s and 0s, there can be no change. Therefore, the worldview of shapes reduces to the worldview of inertness in which change is impossible. Even an imaginary world—comprised only of 1s and 0s—that changes is impossible. Since change is observable by everyone, therefore, the ideology of shapes and their reduction to numbers is refuted through observation.

The problem goes back to Greek times when living forms were reduced to dead mummies. When the world is modeled after dead mummies, then it has got to be dead. We cannot explain any kind of life because our model is mathematics, which reduces to numbers that are dead mummies. We can simply talk about the shape of the mummies but we cannot produce any change from those shapes.

Modern science escaped this problem by saying that some numbers constitute time, which flows automatically, making some dead mummies move, which causes the rest of the world to move. But nobody can say why some mummies are dead while others are moving. If some mummies evolve into other mummies causing time to go forward, then what causes the mummies to change? The answer has to come from the mummies themselves. But there will never be an answer to the problem of change from the study of mummies because they are already dead.

The Entire History of Shapes is Futile

2,500 years have passed since the Greeks tried to transform the transcendent forms in pagan religions into ideas in a Platonic world, then divided forms into theoretical and practical, then limited rational and empirical knowledge to theoretical forms, and finally equated theoretical forms to equations. This trajectory has been a disaster because at each step, the gap between what form originally was, and what it is supposed to reduce to now, keeps widening. This long history is tantamount to the laughable claim that all ideas—including those of truth, beauty, and justice—are nothing but shapes.

Greek philosophy, Abrahamic faiths, and modern science are three successive attempts to reduce persons to shapes, geometry, and numbers. Each of these attempts has been a spectacular failure. However, since the aversion to personalism is deep, therefore, successive impersonal ideologies are pursued. The triumvirate of philosophy, religion, and science is the aversion to personhood and inclination to impersonalism. It imagines that the world is governed by ideas, rules, laws, formulae, and equations rather than persons. It strips the thought from the thinker and imagines the world governed by ideas to be better than the world governed by persons. Repeated failures of this thinking do not deter the impersonalist. He looks for a new idea, rule, law, formula, or equation to reconceive reality because of his deeply ingrained impersonalism.

The Vedic system rejects this entire trajectory of trying to reduce a person to an idea, then reducing the idea to a shape, and then describing the shape through geometries, rules, laws, formulas, and equations. After that rejection, the Vedic system talks about forms which are persons. Form in the Vedic system means a different type of person, while the same word means a shape in Western thinking. Each part of the form is uniquely different while each part of the shape is identical to the other parts. A form affects sense perceptions, thoughts, judgments, intentions, and values. A shape just affects the eyes.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "Vedic Form vs. Western Shape," in Shabda Journal, September 30, 2023,