The process of appreciating Vedas has been interesting for me. At one time, I denounced every vague statement and intended connotation in Vedas equating them with mythology, fantasy and poetry. But as I take a second look at them now, they seem to produce an awe and admiration for all those wise men who wrote them. I think- ‘If only we could think the way they have thought’. I have to admit though that this admiration is confined to the wise men who wrote these books, but I definitely do not equate Vedas with any faculty of Science.
The modern physics which took a divergent path from many theological philosophies around 16th Century went on an accelerated path of evolution in the last 400 years and has now started to give room to some philosophical interpretations though not necessarily based on theology. There is a sense of awe for certain innate and as well apparent paradoxes in nature and the crux of this bafflement in modern physics is actually an argument presented in Vedas, that the Universe is continuous and a single entity, including the men and women residing in it, and that whatever we see or pe
rceive of Nature as independent and separate is nothing but an illusion created by the mind of the man (maya?).
This is what many modern physicists might have felt upon the advent of Quantum Theory, which made even Albert Einstein utter-"God does not play dice with the Universe". Well, to his disappointment, it turns out that matter and fo
rce and all other things that we know do not have any ‘real’ existence at the sub-atomic levels. Their existence is governed by probability and characterized by their relationships and inte rconnection to the others. Vedas that say- ‘It moves, it moves not, it exists, it exist not’, are synonymous to the thoughts of these scientists who were looking at the behaviors of sub-atomic particles of an atom. The ‘real’ matter and fo rces could very well be just a simple case of a continuous universe and valid only in a narrow frame of observation which the man is used to.
For many Indians and Indophiles, Vedas, in revelation of the above observations of scientists, actually appear to be a compendium of the ultimate results that Modern Science obtained after a rigorous and methodical sea
rch spanning thousands of years. It’s as if, to get to the same conclusions, scientists and Indian mystics have taken different paths. If that is the case, the mystics seem to have come to the same conclusion almost two thousand years ahead of the scientists. Wow! This is so nice and convenient. It makes many Indians proud of their own ancestry. Its as if, for all that we missed during scientific and industrial revolutions of Europe and US between 16th and 19th century we already made up thousands of years ago - and it is all well documented in our Vedas.
For many vedic scholars, astrologists, believers of great Indian ancestry, this turns out to be a convenient exercise to showcase how these great books reveal many great truths. They push this argument further and try to dig out different interpretations and meanings to these texts and try to find out solutions to all modern day problems. Since we as Indians couldn’t come up with inventions or discoveries in the last thousand years, we take solace in our old Vedas and keep ourselves happy. For everything that Modern Science has invented there seems to be some answer, solution or reference in our Vedas. And at a first glance, it does seem to be true- Vedas do have a collection of many references (which could be equated to the results of Modern Science).
What is important, though completely ignored by most proponents of Vedas, is the path that was taken to arrive at those conclusions. Modern Science is directly responsible for the progress in technology, medicine, engineering and many other fields that we have seen in the last thousand years, while Vedas are confined to the spiritual and complex minds of few people who seem to have seen the essence in its entirety but are unable to articulate it to understanding of common man. Some claim they understand, but unfortunately their attempts to teach us all their understanding is not understood by others. This is where the lucidity, clarity and rigor of Science differ from a
rcane, vague and allegorical Vedas.
Science throws out clear theories (based on commonly agreed axioms) which can be taken up by anyone and reach the same conclusions, while Vedas do not have any such theories; and to get to the same conclusion, one has to rely on leaps of faith, intuition and supposedly some revelations.
How much ever we like to believe, Vedas do not seem to give us the same tools to work with to arrive at the conclusions and deductions written in those books. For all practical purposes, Vedas, with its deductions which are mystical, have to considered as good books of aphorisms and truisms and nothing more. Vedas may contain allegorical and fantastic descriptions of supposed flight, atomic theory and other modern concepts, but we do not know whether they are the conclusions after a thorough resea
rch or mere hypothesis or just whimsical conundrums.
Though they appear to carry these profound truths they cannot be used in a rational and intellectual discussion because they do not support their statements with valid, accepted and rigorous proofs and methods. Some may dismiss this argument saying that eastern way of arriving at a truth is different from western methods, but even this argument is hollow, since no practical path is described on how to arrive at these truths. We can appreciate such truths only when we reach the same conclusion on our own taking up the path of Science. Some would ask us to accept these results out of pure faith but then this would make it more of a religion than science.
If Vedas do contain reference to Atomic Bomb or Flight or Laser Beam or Wireless Technology, they do not have any close semblance with scientific argument. We can’t take up a book of Vedas and build an Airplane. For all practical purposes, these texts could be as fictitious as Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ with descriptions of middle earth and his fire-breathing-dragons. May be, two thousands years from now someone will open this book and believe that we actually had teleporting, immortality and levitation. It may turn out that Vedas are mythological stories just like Greek and Roman mythologies with a dose of philosophy. My sense of awe for Vedas is akin to what I have for other works of fiction, ‘Time Machine’ from HG Wells, or ‘Matrix; from Wachowski Brothers.
According to me, Vedas for all their mysteriousness can be an interesting and mysterious read but can never substitute or find itself close to any department of Science.
[This is an updated and edited version from an article I wrote in May 1998]
Arunn has an excellent criticism of such pseudo-scientific explanation of one of the Mantras. Its funny that one Dr. Tanmaya talks about the sound of Galaxies and Planets whizzing past in space and compares it with sound generated when a fan rotates.
Update: 7 Sep 2006