This is the third in the series of five essays my Deekshithar and I wrote in the last years of the previous century. It speaks about what we can learn from the ancient knowledge systems about cosmology. And specifically about the concept of Akasha, Aether, or Space, knowledge of which has been encoded and preserved in one of the great sacred temples of India, the Shri Sabhanayaka or Nataraja temple in Tamil, Nadu. This temple is known as the Akasha Kshetra, the Field of Akasha, one of the Mahabhuta Sthalas or Element Temples.
In this article we share our thinking on Vedic Cosmology and Akasha that was the result of some ten years of researching, discussing, and meditating on the subject. This essay, together with the others in this series, was shared on a website created for Raja Deekshithar by one of his students around 2000. One international hotshot found it and used our work as the basis of a series of bestsellers, promoting the idea of Akasha as the Unfied Field Theory, or the Toe, the Theory of Everything. Writing the books my Deekshithar and I could not, due to lack of resources. How am I sure? He refers to the Deekshithar’s website as a resource in his first book.
He did a good work promoting the idea, but he never came to the root, to Tillai-Chidambaram. To the Dancing Lord and the Ananda Tandava. So he missed the essence.
The other essays are:
Breath and Cosmos
The Art of Vedic Healing
A journey to the Fifth Element
In the deep south of the Indian subcontinent, where the ways of the people are so different one imagines one’s self to have arrived on another planet, there exists a sacred location known as the Akasha Kshetra, the Field of Akasha. Akasha, the Ether, Space, the Void, is described as ‘Where the impact of the other four Elements does not reach, that is called Akasha. Akasha holds the four Elements in itself, and controls them, but is outside of them, and is not itself impacted by them.
This Akasha Kshetra became the place where Lord Shiva descended to perform his Ananda Tandava, the Dance of Bliss, for the enlightenment of humanity. He danced in the Cit Sabha, the Hall of Consciousness, and has been dancing there ever since. Over the centuries a great temple has been constructed around this Sabha, and its roof has been covered with gold. This temple, together with the rituals performed for Shiva Nataraja by the priestly community, which has been its custodian since the day the Lord presented His Dance, constitutes a map of the being and becoming of the cosmos. A cosmological doctrine of form, pattern, and process, expressed through the architectural structure as well as ritual action. If we could decode and read this ancient map, a whole new path could be paved for humanity to follow towards an unexpected treasure.
Passage Through Space
Ancient texts speak of Akasha Gamanam, or Passage Through Space. To be achieved through spiritual practice and the application of sacred sound formulas of mantras. Both weightlessness, as well as release of the physical body from the grip of time and geometrical space, was once within the reach of the ancient science called the Veda. To us, in the so-called space age, such possibilities are a distant dream. We are skeptical and laugh at our ancestor’s suggestions. Assuming they must have been imagining these achievements, possibly under the influence of drugs. But two hundred years ago such things as radio, TV, and walks on the moon were considered impossible and ridiculous as well.
This ancient science held spirit or consciousness to be the main object of study, understanding, and development. But has now been marginalized to a secondary place by Western materialistic science and technology as religion and mysticism. Something never to be taken completely seriously in the academic approach.
We may ask, what did the ancients mean with Akasha Gamanam, Passage Through Space? What exactly did Akasha mean to them? And what significance can this ancient doctrine have for us, who live in the 21st century? To answer these questions we have to learn to read the ancient map left to us in the form of the temple of the Dancing Shiva, and the rituals performed for his worship.
The map is the territory
In the West it is said, ‘the map is not the territory’. This shows the dualistic approach rooted in materialism. For the non-dualistic, and holistic doctrine of the Dancing Shiva, the map IS also the territory. In the heart of the temple, we find the Chit Sabha, the Hall of Consciousness. This does not refer in the first place to our individual, human consciousness, but to the Absolute, All-Pervading Cosmic Consciousness from which all phenomena have their origin. In the structure of the Sabha we find many cosmic cycles and concepts expressed through numerology. Inside the Sabha, we find the three essential expressions of the Cosmic Energy on the transcendental, divine plane.
(1) As form: the image of the Dancing Shiva.
(2) As formless-form: the Crystal Linga.
(3) As formless: with a mysterious, sacred mantra, Akasha is invoked onto a formless yantra.
What are this Akasha, the Ether, and Space? It is the first of the Mahabhuta or gross Elements, and is sometimes also called the fifth Element or Quintessence. It has a special character, different from the other four material Elements. Although it is sthula of gross, material, it stands apart from the other four in its character, its qualities, and its functioning in the cosmos. This is expressed in the temple structures in the way in which the prakaras or temple courtyards are constructed around and in interaction with the central Sabha.
The doctrine explains that the Mahabhutas or Elements appeared one out of the other, generated from the transcendental plane, and producing the material universe. First to appear was Akasha, the Ether; from which came Vayu, the Air; from Air came forth Tejas, or Fire; from Fire emerged Apas or Water; and from Water was brought forth Prithivi, Earth. This is expressed in the temple architecture through the five concentric prakaras or courtyards surrounding the Sabha.
The temple, a map of the Cosmos
The first surrounds the sanctum inside the Sabha, lying contained within its walls, under the golden roof. Called the Pranava Prakara, we find here the Akasha and the sacred primordial sound OM. The priests only, from the sanctum inside the Sabha, can access this prakara. The second courtyard surrounds the Sabha, and is open to the sky. Here we find the Element Air. This and the following prakaras are separated by high granite walls but can be entered through wide entrance gates. Next from the center is the third courtyard, where we find the Element Fire. It is mostly covered. We leave it by ascending the 21 steps, and through a gigantic doorway. We are now in the fourth courtyard, where we find the sacred pond of the temple, which is the element, Water. In this wide and open area, we find many of the secondary temples and other structures. It is separated from the outside world by very high walls, with at the four cardinal points four tower gates or gopurams. Each has 7 stories tapering towards the top, creating a pyramidal structure. This represents the definite transition from the transcendental plane to the earthly and worldly plane as we pass through the great gates to the fifth courtyard, which is the Element Earth.
Akasha shariram Brahma
The Pranava Prakara, situated within the Sabha and representing both Akasha and the sacred sound formula OM, but outside and surrounding the actual sanctum, shows the vital and unique character of Akasha, the Ether. Although sthula, gross or material, it is part of and intimately connected to, the transcendental plane of Absolute Consciousness. The ancient Upanishad says ‘Akasha shariram Brahma’.
The Ether serves as the embodiment of the Cosmic Self.
The Cosmic Self is embodied in the Ether.
Brahman is the Independent Self-existing Spirit. The Cosmic Absolute of which is said ‘That (Brahman) is surely different from the known; and again, it is above the unknown.’ It is even beyond the transcendental plane. Unconditioned, without qualities. Unknowable. At the same time, it pervades all and everything and it has its embodiment on the physical plane through Akasha or Ether.
What can we know about this Akasha or Ether, which is also known and understood as space, or the void? Whereas the other four Elements are described as atomic, that is consisting of particles, Akasha is said to be non-atomic, ONE. Indivisible, all-pervading, and ubiquitous. As it is non-atomic and One, it does not give rise to agglomeration (forming lumps) and does therefore not give or create an obstruction. One of its characteristics is motion in every direction. It is considered the vehicle of life and consciousness.
Akasha as a Mahabhuta or gross Element has a subtle or sukshma counterpart, also called its guna or quality. This tanmatra or subtle Element is called Shabda, which means word or sound, especially the cosmic sound OM, the primordial vibration. In the Pranava Prakara the connection between cosmic consciousness, the primordial sound vibration OM, and the Akasha are clearly embodied and expressed.
Akasha and science
In what way is this ancient cosmological model relevant for us, in the 21st century. The success of materialistic science at explaining so many previously mysterious or unknown phenomena, and the application of technology towards the improvement of the material condition of humanity, have marginalized all other systems of thought. As all traditional doctrines of the pre-materialistic age were directed towards an understanding of the world of the non-material, the spirit, and of consciousness, all have lost their central stature in human civilization, and seen only as religion or mysticism. But does this mean that all these ancient doctrines were truly and necessarily illusionary, superstitious, defective, and wrong? We don’t think so and we will show why.
In order to realize the depth of the ancestor’s knowledge and understanding it is imperative to keep in mind two essential issues.
(1) As their aim in life was primarily an unfolding of human spiritual awareness through the awakening of consciousness, their whole way of thinking was different from that of the modern materialistic civilization. The aims of materialistic science and technology being the understanding and consequent control of the world of matter.
(2) As a consequence the ancients’ means of expressing their knowledge was completely different. Using the human mind’s ability for the association and lateral thinking, they build up an intricate system of analogy and correspondence creating mythological imagery in which they encoded their knowledge and understanding of the cosmos, humanity, and the world we live in.
The oldest, most complete ancient doctrine still being practiced today in a continuous line of oral tradition, is the Veda. It is from this that we have decoded some of the ancients’ scientific cosmological understanding, relating it to some of the most advanced thinking in modern physics. As a consequence, we have to ask ourselves if the ancient Seers were able to gain this much knowledge through their vision, what other knowledge is hidden in ancient myth and doctrine? And if the spiritual practice can be this effective and powerful, should we not ourselves once again take up these methods, and maybe try to synthesize them with the methods of science? Creating a world in which both physical comfort and spiritual well being for all become a reality instead of a distant dream.
Gross and subtle: The first step in the decoding process concerns the understanding of the two concepts of sthula, gross or material, and sukshma or subtle. The first, gross or material, holds no mystery as such. Sukshma, subtle, is a concept neither questioned nor explained by either traditional or academic scholarship. Although realizing its actual meaning has turned out to be one of the great keys towards the unlocking of many seemingly confusing and mysterious concepts and principles within the Vedic doctrine. Sukshma refers and applies to function and action. To that which a gross, material object brings about. Walking down a street has no material existence, except as a few bits of memory. This applies to all functions and actions. They are fully real, undeniable, although they have no material substantive existence like objects. We cannot take ‘to walk’ in our hands and examine it. We do not expect ‘walking’ to be measured with regards to mass, momentum, charge, spatial dimensions, etc. It does not have any of these qualities. It could as well be a ghost. Still, we have no problem recognizing ‘walking’ as a reality. It is as real to us as any particle or object. It is real, but altogether non-substantive. It is a function of life, it is an action. It is sukshma, subtle.
The Mahabhuta, Elements
The concept of the world consisting of five Elements or Mahabhuta is one that has received great ridicule from scientists, ever since the ‘discovery’ of the chemical elements by A.L. Lavoisier (1789). Speculation by Greek philosophers developed into an Elemental doctrine during the classical period. This had an all-powerful impact on the medieval European worldview. But the Vedic Elemental doctrine existed minimally several hundred years before the Greek philosophers undertook their speculations, and it has been an essential part of all Vedic and Hindu cosmology and philosophy ever since.
The five Elements, Mahabhuta or Great Beings, constitute the material plane of the creation. Each has a counter part in its subtle Element, tanmatra, or quality. These are denominated primarily as the five sense objects. But the subtle Elements are also the functions of the gross Elements. What they do, bring about, effect.
Earth, Prithivi Smell, relationship, Gandha
Water, Apas Taste, essence, Rasa
Fire, Tejas Form and colour, Rupa
Air, Vayu Touch, contact, Sparsha
Ether, Akasha Sound, word, Shabda
It has already been stated that four Mahabhuta are atomic, which means they consist of or can be divided into particles. These are Earth, Wind, Fire and Air. Although scientists usually pour scorn on the ancient doctrine of the Elements, late 20th century physics also states that the material universe is governed by the functioning of four field forces or interactions. These function through the exchange of elementary particles called Bosons. The four Forces of physics are called gravity, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, and the electromagnetic force. Is this an accident of history? A mere coincidence? Possibly not, if we compare the functioning of the four interactions with the qualities of the four Elements as expressed in their respective tanmatra or subtle Elements.
Earth: relationship gravity: generates mass, holds mass together forming bodies, let’s
smell these bodies relate to each other in solar systems, galaxies generally creates attraction and relationship.
Water: essence weak nuclear interaction: transmutes nuclei of atoms by mediating
taste radioactive decay, changing them into other chemical elements through, as it were controlling and regulating essence.
Fire: form and electro magnetic force: charge gives form to atoms, and thus to
colour everything in the universe; what is visible light for us is a small section of all radiation, caused by photons, the carrier particles of the electro magnetic force.
Air: contact strong nuclear interaction: binds the touch particles in the nucleus of
touch the atom, also described as ‘glue’.
Akasha: If we accept that what the ancients called Mahabhuta or Elements could be known to modern science as forces, then what should we conclude about the fifth Element of the doctrine, the Akasha or Ether? It is said to be One, non-atomic, undividable, all-pervading, and ubiquitous. It does not form into lumps or cause obstruction. It is characterized by motion in every direction. It was the first to appear, constituting the origin for all phenomena on the material plane. The other four Elements are generated from it, each from the previous one. It holds and controls them within itself without being impacted by them. Shabda, sound or word, and cosmic vibration, is its quality. It can be described as a unifying force field, characterized by vibration.
Unified Field Force
Strangely and peculiarly physicists in the 20th century, beginning with Albert Einstein, have been searching for such a force. They have called it the grand unified field force. This search has been undertaken through mathematical manipulations and experiments. It has led to the recognition of two principles thought by physicists to be at work in the cosmos on an elementary level. The first is called supersymmetry, and the second superstrings. Supersymmetry is thought to be at work as the very essence in the conception and functioning of the four forces. Each of these can be mathematically converted into the other by a manipulation called rotation on a theoretical level. In the reality of the universe, the four forces were unified at the first moment of the Big Bang, when all energy was concentrated in one point. As the universe expanded and cooled in a fraction of a second, they were generated by the breaking of the original cosmic symmetry, by what are called phase transitions, each generating out of the other. Just as the Elements are said to have been produced at the time of creation. In our day-to-day experience of the world, this original symmetry is expressed through the laws of conservation. Every physical principle can be converted into another, but the essence and the totality remain unchanged. The most potent of these laws is the conservation of energy, expressed in Einstein’s formula
E = mc2
This principle of symmetry is expressed in the ancient doctrine by a geometrical symbol which is both extreme in its simplicity as well as in its effectiveness in conveying the concept of supersymmetry in all its implications. In the ancient cosmological map, which is the temple of Shiva Nataraja, it is embodied in the total form of the structure. The temple layout has the shape of a sauvastika, an anti-clockwise swastika. This ancient symbol can now be understood as representing the Akasha, the Ether, as well as expressing the concept of supersymmetry in modern physics.
Superstring is the idea that the elementary particles, which make up the structure of all matter and all physical phenomena, are not pi, -point solid billiard balls, but bits of vibrating cosmic string. Each type of particle would be the expression of a different vibration. It is not at all difficult or far-fetched to realize the connection and similarity between the subtle Element Shabda, sound, word or vibration, the quality and characteristic of Akasha, that means its activity, and the physicists’ description of vibrating strings functioning as elementary particles and producing our material reality.
Science envisions string-particles to be vibrating bits of energy in space. The Vedic doctrine envisions space, Akasha, to be a gross and substantive principle, which vibrates, bringing the other forces into being. String-particles are the vibrations of Akasha and are generated by it. Or as one scientist put it ‘tiny one-dimensional discontinuities in space-time’. Then what is this Akasha or Ether? It is in essence the source of pure energy, which came into being at the moment of the Big Bang. The word Akasha itself points to this. The verb-root kash means to be visible, appear, to shine, be brilliant, or to see clearly. Kasha means the becoming visible, appearance. The prefix A connotes near to, towards, out of, from among, as well as general emphasis. Altogether the word is connected to light, movement, appearance and perception.
Akasha as the Unified Field
Akasha can be described as the matrix or organizing principle within which all the other material forces and phenomena of this universe function. It is the origin of all the cosmic constants, those parameters, which make the universe; we live in as it is. A consequence of understanding Space, Akasha as gross, is the realization that what we basically experience as a void, a no-thing, is, in reality, a something. This realization has already been dawning among some of the physicists involved in the most advanced cosmological research, based on their own observations and understanding.
Why Ether or Akasha has not been discovered or measured by science at all is easily explained from its description in the doctrine. It is One, non-atomic, undividable, all-pervading, and ubiquitous. In science, it is understood that a completely universally invariant field is undetectable because it is the same everywhere. And can therefore not be measured!
Aether, Relativity, Akasha,
At the end of the 19th century a visionary among scientists, Albert Einstein, discarded the concept of ether, as it was understood by Western science. This understanding was originally based on the concept of ether inherited by the West from the Greek philosophers, especially Aristotle. Einstein concluded that the ether of space “could not be detected by any experimental means, and therefore it was a useless concept which should be discarded.” This led him to the formulation of his theory of Special Relativity, which over time was followed by the theory of General Relativity. From this Einstein formulated a new understanding of the fabric of space: the fabric of space cannot tear and the substrate of space is smooth. Space has no creases, no punctures, no separate pieces ‘stuck’ together, and no tears. Returning full circle, expressing almost literally the ancient Vedic doctrine on the character of Akasha, Ether or Space.
Vedic Cosmology, the Theory of Everything
Is it too far fetched to say that the ancient Vedic Seers formulated the grand unified field theory, describing accurately the elementary forces and their functioning in the universe, thousands of years before our present scientific age? If this could be proved more substantially than is possible within the confines of this paper, would this not necessitate us to re-examine our preconceptions about both our past history, as well as about the so-called mystical and religious traditions of our ancestors?
If a scientific theory wants to gain acceptance, one of the prerequisites is that it can explain its subject phenomena. But also that it can make predictions on the outcome of experiments, or about certain features in nature. We propose that a further study of the Vedic doctrine, and especially of the concept called Akasha or Ether, will solve many of the scientific riddles, which have been enigmatic over the past decades. We mention a few.
* The existing paradox between General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.
* The particle-wave dichotomy.
* The interference pattern emerging from light waves traveling through two slits.
* Understanding the relationship between time and geometrical space.
* Expansion and contraction of the universe.
* Lightspeed as a constant.
* Matter-anti matter dichotomy.
* The riddle of the missing matter in the universe.
* All phenomena related to clock-wise and anti-clock-wise rotation.
* The ‘handedness’ of the universe.
* The Big Bang and its aftermath.
* We propose Akasha to be the origin of all patterns and meaning in the universe.
Generally, Akasha will turn out to be a key to the understanding of all cosmic phenomena. But not only that. Akasha is also the key for understanding the role of consciousness in the cosmos, and its relationship to materiality. In the beginning of this paper we stated.
Akasha shariram Brahma
Akasha is the embodiment of Brahman, the one Self-existent Impersonal Spirit, the One Universal Soul. The divine essence and source from which all created things emanate. Thus Akasha forms as it were not only the matrix of all materiality but also of all consciousness. This interconnectedness of materiality and consciousness has in recent years also been proposed by an increasing number of scientists. And experimental proof has been established through a series of experiments conducted by the “Scientific Study of Consciousness- Related Physical Phenomena” of Princeton University, USA.
This means that life and consciousness are preconditioned in our universe. And that evolution is not an accident of nature, but a preconditioned phenomenon, following certain laws and principles, established and determined through the matrix, which is the field of Akasha. This is mirrored in the form and functioning of our DNA. Which consists of four amino acids held together by the hydrogen bond. Mirroring the principle which governs the Elements or forces. The fact that the word brahman literally means growth, expansion, evolution can’t be ignored as accidental.
Returning to the origin of our argument we must ask once again, what did the ancients mean when they stated ‘Akasha gamanam’, or passage through space? Is it possible they were able to release themselves from the Relativity trap, the limitations set by the speed of light, and the laws of acceleration? Not only can we assume this statement was not made as a form of either cheating or self-delusion. Our analysis of Akasha and its connections to scientific cosmology makes it crystal clear our ancestors knew what they were talking about. Their doctrines were not just the result of ignorance, superstitions, fear, or political manipulations. Had our ancestors mastered space travel, possibly through mastery of gravity? It cannot be ruled out, as ancient scriptures speak of vimanas, self-moving flying transports.
Vedic tradition as a resource of knowledge for our future
If it is so, we must ask ourselves how we could regain this ancient knowledge and technology. This is not an empty or rhetorical question, but an important and crucial one. You, the readers, can laugh at our serious suggestion that research into the ancient Veda could lead to the discovery of a means to achieve anti-gravity or a method to accomplish space travel outside the grip of the laws of Relativity. Through the process of ‘Akasha gamanam’. At the moment it may sound like an impossible fairy tale. But once upon a time it was known and practical. Though the technology has been forgotten we could attempt to reconstruct the science behind it and try to bring it into practice once again. We might be able to make ‘Star Trek’ a reality instead of a television fantasy.
In this context, it is imperative to consider the possibility that the root of their achievements did not lie in mastery over materiality as much as in mastery over spirit, or consciousness. We would have to come to understand their approach and reconstruct their knowledge. And synthesize the principles and essence of their thinking and their achievements with our own modern science and technology. Only further research and development in combination with meditation and wisdom can bring us the answers we are looking for.
It is the ultimate goal of the science of physics to develop a theory, which could explain all phenomena in the universe in one sweep. This is called the Theory Of Everything, or TOE. We must now realize that such a theory has already been in existence for the past several thousands of years, (or more?) in the form of the Veda. It was ‘heard’ or ‘seen’ by Rishis or Seers, coming to their awareness from the transcendental plane of cosmic consciousness. And given shape for the use of humanity in the form of hymns, rituals, and ancient traditional sciences. This ancient Theory Of Everything did not only describe and explain the universe as a material phenomenon but included consciousness as one of the constituting principles. This viewpoint is now also slowly being accepted by part of the scientific community.
It may be a blow to our self-esteem, to our idea that we, in the 21st century are at the summit of human achievement. But our pride should not blind us to the achievements of our distant ancestors. Or stop us from using the knowledge and wisdom contained in the ancient doctrines for the improvement of the human condition.
Thank you for visiting
Liesbeth Pankaja Bennink