DEMYSTIFYING THE AKASHA Consciousness and the Quantum Vacuum Ralph Abraham and Sisir Roy
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Chapter 2. Consciousness Models, Eastern
When we met in 2006 and began our joint work on the quantum vacuum, we discovered our common interest in meditation and the models or consciousness of Indian philosophy. The special focus of the Ramakrishna Mission on science and consciousness encouraged us and led to our joint work on models for consciousness, and this book.
While the details of our model are postponed to Part Two, we need to explain at this point that our model starts with a dynamical cellular network. This consists of a very large number of nodes (such as the neurons in a neural network or brain) that store information and are connected by links or synapses that move information from one node to another. This network is changing very rapidly, as information ﬂows, and nodes appear and disappear. We position the network outside of space and time, and eventually, space and time are constructed from the model by an algorithmic process.
At ﬁrst we had only a vague idea of the relationship between our work and the Indian tradition, but we began digging into the literature in search of parallels. With the help of Professor Debabrata SenSharma of the Indology Research Center of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture in Kolkata we discovered some extraordinary parallels, especially regarding the dynamic cellular network and the creation of space and time. We tell the story of our ﬁndings from Indology in this chapter.
There was a climax of Indian philosophy in the Advaita Shaivism of Kashmir, around 1000 CE, and it was here that we found the most signiﬁcant preﬁgurations of our ideas. Our special attraction to Kashmiri Shaivism is well illustrated by this clipping from The Yoga of Vasishta.
VASISHTA replied: There does exist, O R¯ama, the power or energy of the inﬁnite consciousness, which is in motion all the time; that alone is the reality of all inevitable futuristic events, for it penetrates all the epochs in time. It is by that power that the nature of every object in the universe is ordained. That power (cit s´akti) is also known as Mah¯asatta¯ (the great existence), Maha¯citi (the great intelligence), Maha¯´sakti (the great power), Maha¯dr .s .t .i (the great vision), Maha¯kriya¯ (the great doer or doing), Maha¯dbhava¯ (the great becoming), Maha¯spand¯a (the great vibration). It is this power that endows everything with its characteristic quality. 23
Next, we may place the Trika tradition (the Advaita Shaivism of Kashmir) in the chronology of Indian philosophy, following SenSharma (2007, Ch. 1) and (Dyczkowski, 1987). Then we will go on to describe the concepts of space and time found in the Trika literature.
23Venkatesananda, 1993; p. 89.
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2.1. Trika in context
The Yoga tradition, upon a prehistoric base attested by cylinder seals from archeological sites, developed historically in parallel with the Vedic tradition. Yogic practices were collected and organized by Patanjali around 150 BCE. Tantrism, named after written scriptures known as Tantras, became popular after the Buddha, about 400 BCE. The Tantras are a class of religio-philosophical literature emphasizing spiritual practices (sadhanakriya) with mystic, esoteric, and magical elements. There are three Hindu Tantrika traditions: Vaisnava (based on worship of Vishnu), Sakta (on worship of Sakti), and Saiva (on worship of Siva). Vaisnava and Saiva are the major streams.
Before Islam (around 1300 CE) Kashmir was an important center of learning, Hindu and Buddhist, including the development of Tantrism. Kashmiri Shaivism, from 700 or so, became the leading form of Hinduism in Kashmir. Kashmiri Shaiva texts from 850 CE or so have survived. The texts basic to Vaisnava (the agamas) are mostly lost.
There were ten Sakta schools: Kali, Tara, Sodasi, Bhuvanesvari, Bhairavi, ... Kamala. Of the 64 Sakta Tantras mentioned by Sankara around 800 CE, most have been lost. There were 8 Saiva schools, of which three remain popular today: Saiva Siddhanta, Virasaiva, and Trika Saiva. The Saiva Tantras – 10 dualistic and 18 monistic-cum-dualistic – are mostly lost, but of 64 monist texts – the Bhairava Tantras – some have survived.
The Spanda school was an early development of Kashmiri Shaivism, which evolved many subcultures, including Saivasiddhanta, Bhuta and Garuda Tantras, Vamatantras, Bhairavatantras, and others, such as the Pasupatas, Kaulas (including Krama and Trika). Kula is a system of many major traditions, including the Kaulas (and thus also, Krama and Trika).
The Trika Saiva school reached an apex with the Kashmiri master, Abhinavagupta. His magnum opus, the Tantraloka, written around 1000 CE near Srinigar, is the main source preﬁguring our model of consciousness, the digital a¯k¯a´sa. The Trika of Abhinavagupta brought together the main threads of Kashmiri Shaivism, including ancient strands – Krama, earlier Trika, and other parts of Kula – and newer developments native to Kashmir – Pratyabhijna (the philosophy of recognition) and Spanda (the doctrine of vibration). 24 The doctrine of vibration is of particular relevance to our model of consciousness.
2.2. Trika creation story
Now we may continue with the basic concepts of Trika Shaivism, based on Abhinavagupta, as we have learned from Professor SenSharma. We are especially interested in these concepts: the 36 tattvas (levels of creation), spanda (vibration), a¯ka¯´sa (aether), and subtle time, which emerge in the Trika creation story. We begin with this story, in a nutshell.
24See Dyczkowski, 1987, Introduction and Chapter 1.
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The Kashmiri Saivites describe the creation of the world as the self-manifestation of the fundamental consciousness outside of the universe (Supreme Lord, ´Siva). This begins with its subtle form (conscious energy, Divine ´Sakti), which is activated by spanda (a throb). This is like a movement, yet not a movement, as space and time do not yet exist. This activation leads to a descent or involution, all in an instant, down a sequence of four spheres (andas) in 36 steps (tattvas, or categories). On the upper sphere (Saktyanda) ´Sakti functions as pure consciousness (cit ´sakti) including levels of creation in ideal form, that is, as cosmic ideas. Subject and object are one. On the next lower sphere (Mynda) ´Sakti functions as the subtle power of observation, Subject and Object begin to diﬀerentiate. On the next (Prakrityanda) she functions as gross material power (Prakriti), and in the base sphere (Prithvyanda) as the most gross material power.
The tattvas are as follows.25
The Pure Order, which exists in the realm of Mahamaya (the pure form of Divine Sakti), has the ﬁrst ﬁve tattvas:
• 1. ´Siva • 2. ´Sakti • 3. Sadasiva • 4. Isvara • 5. Sadvidya.
The Impure Order, with the remaining 31 tattvas, is characterized by the operation of Maya (which conceals and covers up) and by limited nature, discreteness, and material form. The ﬁrst of the impure tattvas are:
The six Kancukas, or truncations of Divine Powers:
• 6. Maya (beginning of limitation, discreteness, and diﬀerentiation) • 7. Kaal (limitation of time) • 8. Vidya (limitation of knowledge) • 9. Raga (attachment) • 10. Kalaa (limitation of action) • 11. Niyati (limitation of place)
Next, the inner instrument:
• 12. Purusa 25Here we follow Pandey, 2006, p. 362.
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• 13. Prakrti • 14. Buddhi (cognition) • 15. Ahamkara (ego) • 16. Manas (ratiocination)
The ﬁnal twenty (in four groups of ﬁve):
• ﬁve sense organs (smelling, tasting, seeing, feeling, hearing) • ﬁve instruments of action (resting, rejecting, locomotion, handling, voicing) • ﬁve tanmatras (smell, taste, form, touch, sound) • ﬁve mahabhutas (earth, water, light, air, ether)
2.3. Selected concepts of Trika
There are several concepts of Kashmiri Shaivism that are of special interest in connection with our model of consciousness.
It is said that in philosophy, there are two methods of reconciling a dichotomy: the dualistic method in which both alternatives coexist in conﬂict, and the nondualistic or monistic method in which one subsumes the other. In the case of the mind/body dichotomy of Descartes, the nondualistic way is sometimes called monistic idealism or integral monism.
A chief feature of Kashmiri Shaivism, shared with Advaita Vedanta, is integral monism. This is in contrast with the Samkhya philosophy, which is dualistic. The Trika cosmology is nondualistic: divine consciousness (Siva) is primary. The material world is created from it, and embraced within it. Thus subject and object are one. Dualistic theories regard the creator and the created as distinct.
Although the Trika and Vedanta are both advaita (nondualistic), there are important diﬀerences. Says Dyczkowski:
Saivism equates the absolute wholly with consciousness. Reality is pure consciousness alone (samvid). Consciousness and Being are synonymous. To experience the essential identity between them is to enjoy the bliss (ananda) of realization. The Advaita Vedantin maintains that in a primary sense reality cannot be characterized in any particular way, but aﬃrms that secondarily we
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can conceive it to be ’Being-Consciousness-Bliss’ (saccidananda). Being, understood as an absolute substance (which is not substantial in a material sense), is the model for the Advaita conception of consciousness. Monistic Saivism, on the other hand, considers consciousness to be the basic model through which we understand Being.26
In our model, gross space, time, and matter are created from a rapidly ﬂuctuating cellular dynamical network by an algorithmic process of condensation. The dynamic network corresponds to divine consciousness, the matrix of all existence, outside of conventional space and time. The rapid ﬂuctuations correspond with spanda.
Spanda (pronounced ’spund’) means throb or pulse in Sanskrit. In Trika philosophy, it refers to a nonmoving motion of the Divine Consciousness with which the creation of the world is initiated and maintained. The ﬁrst text of the Kasmiri Saiva tradition is the Sivasutra, or Aphorisms of Siva, attributed to Vasugupta around 850 CE. A few years later, Vasugupt’s disciple, Kallatabhatta, wrote the Spandakarika (Stanzas on Vibration, The Spanda school is named after this work. 27 From Jaideva Singh:
Spanda is a very technical word of this system. Literally, it is some sort of movement or throb. But as applied to the Divine, it cannot mean movement. Abhinavagupta makes this point luminously clear in these lines:
Spandana means some sort of movement. If there is movement from the essential nature of the Divine towards another object, it is deﬁnite movement, not some sort, otherwise, movement itself would be nothing. Therefore, Spanda is only a throb, a heaving of spiritual rapture in the essential nature of the Divine which excludes all succession. This is the signiﬁcance of the word Kin˜cit in kin˜cit calanam which is to be interpreted as movement as it were.
Movement or motion occurs only in a spatio-temporal framework. The Supreme transcends all notions of space and time. Further from Abhinavagupta:
Spandana means some sort of movement. The characteristic of ’somewhat’ consists in the fact that even the immovable appears ’as if moving,’ because though the light of consciousness does not change in the least, yet it appears to be changing as it were. The immovable appears as if having a variety of manifestation.
26Dyczkowski, 1987; p. 43. 27See (Dyczkowski. 1987; p. 20).
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Spanda is, therefore, spiritual dynamism without any movement in itself but serving as the causa sine qua non of all movements.28
In our model, the iteration of a dynamic cellular network corresponds to Spanda. The nodes of the network change their states with each increment of network time, and links between nodes also appear and disappear.
2.3.3. ´Siva and ´Sakti.
´ Siva and ´Sakti are two principle tattvas in Shaiva darshan. ´Siva is considered as prakasa or luminating force and ´Sakti as vimarsa or vibratory force. Here,
Prakasa transmutes into vimarsa and assumes the form of bindu. Vimarsa, or ´Sakti transmutes into prakasa, or ´Siva, as a result of which bindu is split and nada is born. Prakasa is that energy which is inherent in Siva..... Mool bindu is the root of creation. When there is vibration in bindu, nada is born and the tattvas that arise out of nada are formed....there is evolution of sound into light, which gives rise to form.29
These are the ﬁrst two tattvas of the Pure Order. Although ´Sakti folows ´Siva in the sequence of tattvas, the two are generally regarded as a linked and balanced pair. Dyczkowski explains,
Intimately bound together as heat is with ﬁre, or coolness with ice, ´Sakti – God’s power, and ´Siva – its possessor, are never separate. Even so, if we are to understand their relationship we must provisionally distinguish between them in the realms of manifestation.30
In the context of our digital model, ´Siva and ´Sakti might be interpreted as the alternating inﬂow and outﬂow functions of the dynamic links between the nodes.
Ma¯y¯a means ’not that’ in Sanskrit. In Advaita Vedanta, it was introduced by Shankara in the 9th century referring to a veil that hides the Divine from us, creating the illusion of duality. In Trika, it is the ﬁrst tattva of the Impure Order, the ﬁrst of the six kancukas. Also,
28(Singh, 1980; pp. xvi-xvii) 29number 6 30Dyczkowski, 1987; p. 99
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all the tattvas of the Impure Order are characterized by Ma¯y¯a ´Sakti. SenSharma explains, in the creative process (involution):
As the second type of cidanus [spiritual monads] undergo involution in the domain of M¯ay¯a ´sakti, which is described as the universal power of obscuration, she enwraps them with the result that their natures get further obscured. The veiling by M¯ay¯a is technically called the mayiya mala. M¯ay¯a is not alone in accomplishing the task of obscuration. It brings into operation ﬁve other forces of limitation, technically called kancukas. As these kancukas (lit. integuments) enwrap the individual being, ´Siva’s divine powers as the Supreme Lord, which were indicative of His divine glory, are transformed into ﬁve principles of limitation (kancukas) ...31
In Vidya, Tattva 8 belonging to the M¯aya¯ group, ´Siva creates space and time. The spatial and material universe is created of ﬁve elements: four of matter (ﬁre, earth, air, water), and one of pure space or ether (the ¯ak¯a´sa). The ether has two phases, subtle and gross. In our model, the nodes of the network correspond to the subtle ether, while the physical space is created in temporal slices by condensation corresponds to the gross ether. The nodes condense into cliques that precipitate as fuzzy lumps in an illusion of continuous three-dimensiional space. These lumps provide the granularity of space (around the Planck scale, or smallest spatial scale according to quantum physics) required by the theory of the quantum vacuum.
In the same tattva, ´Siva creates two times: subtle and gross. Likewise, our model has two times: the subtle time of the dynamical network, and the gross time created in the condensation process. Together with the continuous-appearing granularity of space around the Planck scale, the condensation process creates a submicroscopically granular gross time with an illusion of continuity, completing the creation of continuous spacetime based on certain dynamics. In the beginning, there were no geometric forms, but they emerge from the network. This is similar to the space associated to the a¯k¯a´sa tattva.
This complicated double structure of space and time seems far from our intuitive notions, perhaps too complicated. However, the recent development of quantum philosophy is moving in a similar direction, as attested from Karen Barad, one of the leading contemporary theorists on the foundations of quantum physics.
31(SenSharma, 2007; p. 75)
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Intra-actions are nonarbitrary, nondeterministic causal enactments through which matter-in-the-process-of-becoming is iteratively enfolded into its ongoing diﬀerential materialization. Such a dynamic is not marked by an exterior parameter called time, nor does it take place in a container called space. Rather, iterative intra-actions are the dynamics through which temporality and spatiality are produced and iteratively reconﬁgured in the materialization of phenomena and the (re)making of material-discursive boundaries and their constitutive exclusions.32
Next, we discuss the ¯aka¯´sa in the larger picture of Indian philosophy.
The word ¯ak¯a´sa is generally translated in English as ether. However, the concept of ether as a medium for the propagation of light is not the appropriate one in Indian philosophy. The concept of akasa has the distinguishing quality of sound in contrast to ether as that of light. In fact, to understand the concept of akasa, one needs to understand the concept of tattva. The Sanskrit word tattva consists of two syllables: tat and tva. Tat means that and tva means ness and hence the word tattva signiﬁes thatness. On further analysis, it signiﬁes the essence which creates the feeling of existence.33
There is another Sanskrit word bhuta which is used synonymously with tattva. There are ﬁve elements or ﬁve diﬀerent states known as pancha tattva or pancha mahabhuta associated with distinct vibratory motions which appear during the evolutionary process of manifestation from Parabrahman. The ﬁrst evolutionary state is the ¯aka¯´sa tattva. It has the distinguishing quality of sound. If we want to use a word similar to ether for ¯aka¯´sa it is better to use an adjective with ether. The ﬁve tattva can be classiﬁed as:34
• a¯k¯a´sa tattva as sonoriferous ether • tejas tattva as luminiferous ether • vayu as the tangiferous ether • ap as the gustiferous ether • prithvi as the odoriferous ether.
Evolution gives rise to light from sound and then to forms. The generation of light from sound has been discovered in twentieth century physics and the phenomenon is known as sonoluminescence.35 32(Barad, 2007; pp. 179) 33(Saraswati, 1984; p. 24). 34(Prasad, 1989; p. 1). 35Putterman, 1995; p. 46-51).
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On the gross level, the physical characteristics of these ﬁve tattvas or ﬁve mahabhutas can be described as:36
• The characteristics of akasa are motion in all directions which are not agglomerated and also not obstructed. • Tejas corresponds to ﬁre, i.e., going upward, burning, lighting, shining, destruction, power. • The characteristics of vayu or ﬁre are the movability and friction. • Ap corresponds to water which characterize smoothness, softness, heaviness, coolness, puriﬁcation, etc. • Prithvi or the earth corresponds to form, stability, rigidity, support, etc.
According to Samkhya philosophy, atoms of the ﬁve mahabhutas combine together to form diﬀerent substances. According to the diﬀerent schools of Indian philosophy, matter can exist in three forms as tanmatras (i.e. sub-atomic stage), as anus, or the atoms of the mahabhutas. The tanmatras signify the potency of having the characteristics of akasa, ﬁre, air earth, etc. A divergence of views exists regarding the genesis of the tanmatras. Actually, they possess something more than the quantum of mass and energy, they possess the physical characteristics like penetrability, capability of radiation of heat, viscosity and cohesion. In addition to these capabilities, they also possess the potentials of energies represented by sound, touch, colour, taste, and smell, but are devoid of any particular form. In this way both animate and inanimate bodies and all forms are created out of the various combinations of these ﬁve elements or pancha mahabhutas.
Akasa is all pervading, just like the luminiferous ether described in physics. The vibrations of the elements which constitute sound associated with akasa are diﬀerent from the vibrations which produce sound and require a physical medium. These elements or tanmatras are very subtle but have the potentiality of creating the sound in the physical world under certain conditions. These subtle tattvas exist in the universe on four planes as follows:
• Physiological, corresponding to prana • Mental, corresponding to manas • Psychic corresponding to vijnna • Spiritual corresponding to ananda
Again some of the secondary qulaities of these tattva can be summarised as:
• Space: this is considered to be a quality of the akasa tattwa. The vibration here may give rise to the statistical nature of space.
36Dasgupta, 1974; p. 222).
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• Locomotion: a quality of vayu tattva, motion in all directions. • Expansion: a quality of tejas tattwa. • Contraction: a quality of ap tattva. The direction of this ether is considered to be the reverse direction of the ether associated to tejas tattva or agni tattva. • Coherence resistance: a quality of the prithvi tattva. This is opposite to akasa tattwa. Akasa tattwa can give rise to locomotion where as prithvi tattva resists it,
It is worth mentioning that Laszlo37 proposed an integral theory of everything and the importance of the akasic ﬁeld in several of his recent monographs, as we describe in a later chapter. We shall now brieﬂy summarise the various schemes of tattvas according to diﬀerent schools of Indian philosophy.38.
• Kashmir Shaiva Siddhanta and Shaiva darshan: there exists thirty six tattvas of creation. • Nyaya philosophy: sixteen tattvas. • Samkhya philosophy: twenty-ﬁve tattvas. • Vaishesika: six tattvas. • Advaita Vedanta: one tattva. • Dvaita Vedanta: two tattvas. • Vishishta Advaita: three tattvas.
While there is a better ﬁt between our model and Eastern philosophy than there is with the Western tradition, we have not yet discovered a justiﬁcation for the atomic or quantum aspect of our model. So, we turn to that in the next chapter.