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Vedic Sciences

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The reconstructions of our earliest science are based not only on the Vedas but also on their appendices called the Vedangas. Briefly, the Vedic texts present a tripartite and recursive world view. The universe is viewed as three regions of earth, space, and sky with the corresponding entities of Agni, Indra, and Vishve Devah (all gods).

In Vedic ritual the three regions are assigned different fire altars. Furthermore, the five categories are represented in terms of altars of five layers. The great altars were built of a thousand bricks to a variety of dimensions which coded astronomical knowledge.

In the Vedic world view, the processes in the sky, on earth, and within the mind are taken to be connected. The Vedic rishis were aware that all descriptions of the universe lead to logical paradox. The one category transcending all oppositions was termed brahman. Understanding the nature of consciousness was of paramount importance in this view but this did not mean that other sciences were ignored. Vedic ritual was a symbolic retelling of this world view.


To place Vedic science in context it is necessary to have a proper understanding of the chronology of the Vedic literature. There are astronomical references in the Vedas which recall events in the third or the fourth millennium BCE and earlier. The recent discovery that Sarasvati, the preeminent river of the Rigvedic times, went dry around 1900 BCE due to tectonic upheavals implies that the Rigveda is to be dated prior to this epoch. Traditionally, Rigveda is taken to be prior to 3100 BCE.

Vedic cognitive science

The Rigveda speaks of cosmic order. It is assumed that there exist equivalences of various kinds between the outer and the inner worlds. It is these connections that make it possible for our minds to comprehend the universe. It is noteworthy that the analytical methods are used both in the examination of the outer world as well as the inner world. This allowed the Vedic rishis to place in sharp focus paradoxical aspects of analytical knowledge. Such paradoxes have become only too familiar to the contemporary scientist in all branches of inquiry.

In the Vedic view, the complementary nature of the mind and the outer world, is of fundamental significance. Knowledge is classified in two ways: the lower or dual; and the higher or unified. What this means is that knowledge is superficially dual and paradoxical but at a deeper level it has a unity. The Vedic view claims that the material and the conscious are aspects of the same transcendental reality.

The idea of complementarity was at the basis of the systematization of Indian philosophic traditions as well, so that complementary approaches were paired together. We have the groups of: logic (nyaya) and physics (vaisheshika), cosmology (sankhya) and psychology (yoga), and language (mimamsa) and reality (vedanta). Although these philosophical schools were formalized in the post-Vedic age, we find an echo of these ideas in the Vedic texts.

In the Rigveda there is reference to the yoking of the horses to the chariot of Indra, Ashvins, or Agni; and we are told elsewhere that these gods represent the essential mind. The same metaphor of the chariot for a person is encountered in Katha Upanishad and the Bhagavad Gita; this chariot is pulled in different directions by the horses, representing senses, which are yoked to it. The mind is the driver who holds the reins to these horses; but next to the mind sits the true observer, the self, who represents a universal unity. Without this self no coherent behavior is possible. In the Taittiriya Upanishad, the individual is represented in terms of five different sheaths or levels that enclose the individual's self.

The Sankhya and the yoga systems take the mind as consisting of five components: manas, ahankara, chitta, buddhi, and atman. Manas is the lower mind which collects sense impressions. Its perceptions shift from moment to moment. This sensory-motor mind obtains its inputs from the senses of hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell. Each of these senses may be taken to be governed by a separate agent. Ahankara is the sense of I-ness that associates some perceptions to a subjective and personal experience. Once sensory impressions have been related to I-ness by ahankara, their evaluation and resulting decisions are arrived at by buddhi, the intellect. Manas, ahankara, and buddhi are collectively called the internal instruments of the mind.

Chitta is the memory bank of the mind. These memories constitute the foundation on which the rest of the mind operates. But chitta is not merely a passive instrument. The organization of the new impressions throws up instinctual or primitive urges which creates different emotional states.

This mental complex surrounds the innermost aspect of consciousness which is called atman, the self, brahman, or jiva. Atman is considered to be beyond a finite enumeration of categories.

Source: T.R.N. Rao and S. Kak, Computing Science in Ancient India. USL Press, Lafayette, 1998.

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