Clipa Magazine is a leading Romanian cultural magazine, home of many of Romania’s writers, academics and opinion leaders. After reading a review copy of Six Causes, senior editor Andrei Carpeneanu (also an author and doctor in philosophy), wrote an article about it in the September issue. Here is the translated version:
The Role of Consciousness in Vedic Philosophy
by Andrei Carpeneanu, PhD
Leaping from Thomas Nagel’s naturalist teleological, non-intentional theory treated in a previous article, but keeping with the requisite of elucidating the phenomenon of consciousness, and—more than that—finding an answer to the question “what would have been the truth-revealing powers of science today, if its investigation had started from the mental, rather than from the physical facet of the Universe?”, positioning ourselves inside the traditional debate between creationism and evolutionism, this time around we will analyze the role of consciousness in Vedic philosophy.
Regarding Indian philosophy, Schopenhauer would ascertain as early as the middle of the 19th century that once it will be known on a large scale, it will have for European culture the importance the teachings of Greece and Rome have had on the Western world in the late Middle Ages. The study of the Vedic texts determined the German philosopher to state that “In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. The Upanishads have been the solace of my life and will be the solace of my death.”
Vedic philosophy describes matter in relation to the observer’s capacity to perceive and not in terms of temperature, mass or speed—the quantitative terms sciences operates with. The observer perceives and describes the world by splitting it into sensations, actions and concepts, and these types— existing in nature—can only be conceived by consciousness.
Therefore, according to Vedic philosophy, consciousness does not derive from matter, but matter derives from consciousness. Consciousness is eternal, it has not been created and cannot be destroyed, and, similarly, the primordial matter, undifferentiated yet by the action of consciousness, is eternal as well.
In his work Six Causes: The Vedic Theory of Creation, Ashish Dalela argues that in Vedic philosophy consciousness has the role of dividing and organizing matter via its choices, the meaning of the choice being on the highest level, irreducible to any material aspect. God creates the Universe by projecting His consciousness into matter; The Vedas describe Creation as similar to a work of art, the world being the product of Divinity’s creative urge, of the way in which His “personality” manifests in matter. Divine nature, Dalela claims, preceeds the existence of the Universe.
Starting from a different representation of the relation between mind and matter, the Indian author proposes a semantic view of matter, based on sense manipulation rather than the analysis of its physical properties. The study of Vedic philosophy can lead us to a new type of science, which can integrate in its objective theories on matter, the subjective, moral aspects of our choices. As Thomas Nagel showed, once the mind was excluded from the physical world, determining a quantitative understanding of the Universe, it became impossible to conceive of a theory about the world which could account for all its aspects, and which, along with the physical features of matter, to also contain explanations for consciousness, intentionality or value. Vedic philosophy can offer precisely the answer Nagel is seeking for in a new science, with the note that that science will have to broaden its conceptual apparatus to include the mental aspect of the world, seen, this time, as fundamental, even foundational to reality.
According to Vedic philosophy, Ashish Dalela shows, objects are created through the combination of matter and information, information (initially a collection of choices of consciousness), being transferred and “fixed” in matter in the form of objects which are being perceived as sensations, concepts, propositions or intentions.
“In Vedic philosophy, therefore, consciousness is the cause of creation and it creates the universe simply by willing. Consciousness does not materially cause the creation because matter is eternal and never ceases to exist. Rather, it causes the creation by externalizing its choices as forms which combine with matter to create objects. The universe comes into existence not from nothingness. It is divided into objects from the prior state of formlessness.”
Also in Six Causes, Dalela maintains that according to the Vedas, the first created thing was the alphabet of a primordial language called sabda-brahman, which symbolizes the elementary choices that consciousness can make, all the forms and the objects of this world representing mutations of this language. In a manner reminding us of the Bergsonian dynamic of the interior flux of consciousness, these choices are described by Vedic philosophy as the moment when we focus our attention on sensations, thoughts or intentions; once our attention retracts our experience ceases to exist. Consciousness, Dalela concludes, is not limited to material conditions and can always retreat from matter through the retraction of its attention.”
“Consciousness is therefore not bound by material conditions and it can withdraw from matter by removing its attention. But the withdrawal depends on consciousness distinguishing itself from its experiences, which are products of matter. Everything we currently consider waking and dreaming ‘experience’ is a product of material elements called senses, mind, intelligence, ego and chitta or contaminated consciousness. These are mirages of the choices of consciousness reflected into matter. These experiences are not ‘inside’ consciousness; they are outside consciousness and to which the observer pays attention”
Vedic philosophy raises numerous difficulties as seen from the framework of a mind educated in the Western cultural climate, but a contemporary author such as Ashish Dalela, with an encyclopedic philosophical training succeeds in building solid bridges of dialogue between apparently irreconcilable philosophical traditions.