Glimpses of Sanatan Dharma
According to physics, atoms are the smallest stable existing physical units. There is a governing principle behind the creation and existence of an atom. That principle includes conditions which will give rise to an atom, the material that the atom is made up of, the forces that keep the atom stable, and the structure and behaviour of the atom.
If two atoms come together to interact, it is this principle that governs their interaction. If electricity flows through the collection of copper atoms, it is a manifestation of the same principle. When we investigate the atom, we see this principle at work, a principle that has been in existence since the first atom was formed. As we go deeper into the atom, at a certain scale a new principle emerges: the quantum. At this point, the principle of the atom does not apply directly any more. Upon further investigation we realise it is the quantum principle which gives rise to atomic principle, which then gives rise to the molecular principle, which, in turn, gives rise to all the stars and galaxies. This principle can also be referred to as a law of atomic manifestation and existence.
According to Sanatan Dharma, the eternal spiritual tradition, the universe is a manifestation of the will of an eternally existing consciousness. This consciousness, known as the Purusha in the Sankhya tradition, and its power of manifestation, known as Shakti, gave birth to the universe, made possible all the details that emerged within the universe and the same consciousness now maintains the universe and all its evolutionary movements. In Indian thought, this is also the idea of Parapurusha and Parashakti, the Supreme Being and its manifest power, and they can also be called the fundamental principle or the law, or Dharma, of the universe. Dharma in Sanskrit means the principle or the law that binds and upholds.
In Sanatan Dharma, the principle that governs the creation and behaviour of an entity like an atom, the principle that holds it together, is referred to and revered as the God of its existence or devata in Sanskrit. So the atoms are connected to the devata of atom, molecules to the devata of molecule, plants to the devata of vegetation and animals to the devata of animals, and so on.
The individual atoms, molecules, plants, trees, animals, birds, insects, reptiles etc. all come together to form the collective entity called the forest, and this takes place under another higher order principle of another higher order devata called the forest devata. In the formation of a forest, all other devatas agree to work in collaboration as a team under the forest devata. Or, in other words, we can say all the principles behind the existence of individual entities agree to collaborate in a certain way to give rise to a forest. This principle is revered by many ancient cultures as the God of Forest. However, what must be noted here is that the idea of devata is not exactly equivalent to the idea of god in English — devata is an embodied principle and integrating force behind the existence of any entity.
This way of seeing and understanding reality is what led the ancient Indian Rishis and Yogis to discover a god or devata behind every entity or process. Hence, the galaxy of Gods (devatas) known to the Indian mind from a stone god to snake god to the sun god to the nation as god. If we replace the idea of god (as in the western culture) with the idea of devata, we will at once see that far from Sanatan Dharma being a superstitious or primitive religion, it is an advanced science, a vidya.
On deeper reflection, one can also see that no individual entity exists by itself: what exists are multiple layers of processes occurring within a single entity. So an atom does not exist as an entity by itself, it exists as a process occurring in a sea of universal energy, just like a wave in the sea has no independent permanent existence but is a process that appears as a separate entity. And the process which gives rise to the wave is the Dharma and devata of all waves.
Our modern physical science reveals quite a similar worldview. It has discovered principles and laws governing various entities and processes and is still working towards more accurate and deeper understanding. The difference between the modern scientific view and the Sanatan Dharma view is that the Sanatan mind had discovered the consciousness behind every principle that operated in the cosmos through introspection and inner experience. The starting point of its enquiry was the principle of consciousness behind existence and the operation of this consciousness in one’s own self. This same process expanded to include all existence, from the atomic to the universal.
The Sanatan mind saw the one consciousness as a Mother principle behind the entire cycle of creation. Each independent principle that constitutes the universe, from the quantum onwards, is a portion of the universal consciousness and functions within the overall design, intelligence and constraints of the Mother principle.
For modern science, the phenomenon of consciousness only begins to emerge in plants, grows in animals and is recognized in its fullness only in humans as conscious entities. A conscious entity broadly means one which can interact intelligently with its environment via cognition, intelligent processing and response or action. Also, a conscious entity is a living entity, it is born, grows and has a will for survival, reproduces and dies. A conscious entity also possesses the ability to modify its own design as a response to environmental needs through adaptation and evolution. The material aspects of the universe don’t qualify as “conscious” for mainstream modern science.
But for a Sanatan mind, the same Mother consciousness is present and functioning everywhere. It has given rise to many basic laws or processes, which in turn have given rise to movements, gati, and forms, akara, of which the universe is a collective operation. Some processes of the universe are more conscious and some are less, but everything is conscious, and everything evolves along a scale of possibility, from the creation and expansion of matter to human life.
In the human, consciousness has developed to a level where entirely new possibilities have emerged; humans can evolve in many dimensions, mental, vital, social, scientific and technological, at a much faster pace. They can use the material and knowledge available in nature to accelerate their own evolution. This is what differentiates the human consciousness from other forms of consciousnesses that existed before: that in humans the consciousness is not fixed or static, it can grow within each individual and hence it can grow within the context of a social group of individuals. So the human individuals and human societies have the capacity to evolve and grow at an accelerated pace. And that is the reason animals still live in the same habitats and in same ways while humans have evolved in diverse and different ways enriching their individual and social lives beyond measure.
With the Yogic development of consciousness, humans can become aware of subtle principles and worlds behind the physical, they can discover and even connect to various devatas or god-principles as they connect to other conscious beings and learn from them. The knowledge thus gained can be used to modify the working of the subtle principles in the physical workings of nature. For example, ancient yogis could cause rain or light oil lamps just by producing certain type of vibrations through their music and singing.
This knowledge and experience of an all pervading consciousness and the visible universe as a manifestation of that consciousness gave a much vaster, deeper and greater understanding to the Sanatan Rishis and Yogins. This “yogic” knowledge has been used to setting up complex social, physical and mental frameworks for an evolutionary society.