Monday, April 06, 2015

You are the cosmos. The cosmos is you.

As I read this NY Times op-ed on "our cosmic selves," I was, yet again, reminded of the mahavakyas, especially "तत् त्वम् असि"

Ok, I am getting ahead of the story.

A question that practically everybody on this planet would like to know the answer to is this: where did we, and everything else, come from?  An awesome mystery ever, right?

If you are talented and creative enough, and have enough charisma, you can then offer your own narrative and gain a few followers.  If the numbers keep growing, then you gain notoriety as a cult leader.  If your cult manages to survive for a hundred years, which will mean you are dead by then, that cult becomes a religion based on the narrative that you offered.

I grew up with interesting narratives that had survived over the centuries.  But, after a while, the puranas, which are stories about the gods, didn't deliver any meaning whatsoever.  They just seemed like awesome soap-operas, with complex subplots.  And, yes, most stories had some element of moral instruction too.

Then there was the fascination with prophets, who turned out to be as clueless as I was--but were master manipulators.


The narratives that appealed to me during the final phase of the religiously agnostic life were whatever I could understand of the vedantic approach.  There were no stories here. No prophets. Only ideas.  Thus, there was no trivial discussion like whether Sita was chaste enough after her time away from Rama, or whether Krishna's rasa lila with the gopis were metaphors to illustrate the deeper points about the soul.

The vedantic ideas were abstractions.  It was like doing math. Imaginary numbers--in this context, you, too, will find it interesting that "i" is discussed there!  Anyway, the vedantic stuff is where I came across the mahavakyas.  And I found it interesting that a commentator on these vedantic aspects was Sivananda, who was from grandmother's village, Pattamadai.  His childhood home was only a couple of doors from grandmother's.  How about that!

One of those mahavakyas is  "तत् त्वम् असि": That thou art.  You are that.  The sentence and the philosophy works well even without bringing in any creator into the discussions.

A wonderful philosophical idea that once we strip from ourselves all the identifications that we use to define who we are, well, the self is "that."  In the vedantic philosophy "that" refers to the "brahman."  (Not to be confused with the brahmin.)

In physics, "that" is cosmic dust.
The iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones and the oxygen we breathe are the physical remains — ashes, if you will — of stars that lived and died long ago.
We are all stars ;)
science continues to show just how intimately connected life on Earth is to extraterrestrial processes. In particular, several recent findings have further illuminated the cosmic origins of life’s key ingredients.
You and I are all the same. Whatever our skin colors ;)
Amid the material comforts and the relentless distractions of modern life, the universe at large may appear remote, intangible and irrelevant, especially to those of us who are city dwellers. But the next time you catch a glimpse of the Milky Way in its true glory, from a dark outpost far from city lights, think of those countless stars as nuclear factories and the starless hazy patches as molecular breweries. It is not much of a stretch to imagine the inchoate seeds of life emerging in the distance.
The universe has never seemed "remote, intangible and irrelevant" to me.  Towards the last couple of years of my "Indian" existence, I felt that deep connection to the vast universe via "तत् त्वम् असि".  Now, it is via cosmic dust.  

And, dust to dust it shall be in a few more years.  Before then, there are papers to grade ;)


Ramesh said...

Oh yes, we are all cosmic dust. Made up of star stuff. I find that breathtakingly profound.

And yet we are not "just" starstuff. That remains the greatest of mysteries.

Sivananda was from Pattamadai ??. Wow !

OK Enough. Stop dreaming Khé and get back to grading those papers. Give an A you miser :)

Sriram Khé said...

Yep, Pattamadai born ...
Here's a post from two years ago where, too, I made a reference to Sivananda and Pattamadai ...

As for being miserly, well, I am merely following Sivananda's guidance ;)

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