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
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.
[ Back ] [ Up ] [ Next ]