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Cosmic Singularity – A Vedanta Perspective
The goal of both science and philosophy is to explore and understand the Reality behind all existence. From the very dawn of civilization man has tried to know the nature and the universe it is embedded in. Philosophers and scientists alike have probed into the secrets of nature and the origin of the universe has been the focal point of their investigations. Philosophers have their conjectures and scientists have their theories but no one has been able to grasp the reality through intellectual efforts. According to the generally accepted theory in cosmology the universe grew impulsively from a concentrated point source of infinite energy called space-time singularity. In spite of the general acceptance the theory has many problems, one of them being the very nature of this cosmic singularity. Singularity is a mathematical concept that brings together two other mathematical concepts – zero and infinity. Although mathematics regards these as the two extremes of the number system, they have nothing in common with numbers. By very definition numbers are quantitative. They have meaning only in relation to some objects. By themselves they mean nothing; five has nothing five-like, it is only a symbol. Zero and infinity have no quantitative aspect to them, they can be referred to only qualitatively. Each is an indivisible whole. They do not depend on other objects for their meaning. In other words they are absolute not relative. Any number multiplied by zero or infinity loses its identity, it merges into the multiplier. Any number divided by zero yields infinity, but divided by infinity yields zero. This process of division is like flipping a coin having zero and infinity as the two sides. The same idea is expressed in Vedanta from a different perspective.
In Vedanta zero and infinity are regarded unknowable and therefore explaining and defining them is out of question. Strictly speaking, even in mathematics zero and infinity cannot be arrived at; a variable can only tend to either. Looking for the smallest number greater than zero or the largest number smaller than infinity is futile. For any unknowable we cannot say what it is; it can be described only in terms of what it is not. That is why in answer to the question what is God (Brahman or Brahm) the Vedas say ‘not this, not this (neti neti)’. The Sanskrit word, from which zero and all its equivalents in other languages are derived, is shunya. It is far more comprehensive in meaning than zero; it means zero only in the context of numbers. Its general meaning is void or emptiness, a concept that the mind cannot grasp unless it is itself empty (the initial premise of yoga philosophy). The same is true for infinity. In Sanskrit there is no single word for infinity. Several words like anadi (without beginning), ananta (without end) etc. are used. Upanishads characterize Brahman as ‘smaller than the smallest and larger than the largest’ . In the usual sense in which the words small and large are used, this statement may seem to be a contradiction in terms. This is because our concept of small and large is tied to the perception of space and time. Small and large are a pair of opposites, which according to Vedanta are two faces of the same coin. Opposites are illusion produced by language. Small is contained in the large and large is contained in the small in a latent form. As Kabir, one of the greatest Indian mystics has said: “The drop merges in the ocean. Where do you search for the drop? The ocean merges in the drop, where do you search for the ocean? The end of the search is the realization that each is in the other”  (translation is mine). The concept of space-time leads to that of causation – cause preceding effect. The sum total of space-time and causation is maya that obscures the Reality . Being absolute, zero and infinity are two aspects of the one Ultimate Reality. In order to realize them one has to transcend space-time.
The singularity brings zero and infinity together. The cosmic singularity combines zero space-time and infinite energy. In Vedanta the primordial state of existence of the Reality is an infinite emptiness (shunyata). When the mind is completely empty and one transcends space-time in deep meditation, one is able to realize this state. However, this emptiness is not nothingness or non-existence. It is pervaded by energy and consciousness. We have arrived at the same concept coming from quantum physics; the quantum void is not empty. There are myriads of virtual particles appearing and disappearing constantly and there is an all-pervading cosmic energy. This state is the substratum of all existence and is called the ‘ground’ by mystics as well as physicists . The dictionary meaning of singularity is ‘the state of being unique or only one of its kind’. In that sense we can view the Ultimate Reality also as a singularity. In cosmology a ‘naked singularity’ cannot be observed or probed because it is enveloped by the event horizon. From Vedanta’s point of view we cannot see the Reality because it is veiled by maya. The laws of physics break down at the singularity; the rational knowledge cannot penetrate through the veil of maya. Even though space-time goes to zero at the singularity, the concept is still wrapped up in space-time; it is defined as a point singularity. We cannot transcend space-time through the rational mind.
We exist in space-time. We as well as everything else in the universe are simply events in space-time. Every event has a lifetime and on cosmological time scale most of the events are transient. Anything that has name and form has a beginning and an end in space-time. How do we transcend space-time? Physically we cannot. But what one calls ‘I’ is not the physical body, ‘I’ just lives in it. Besides the gross physical body there is also a subtle body. It is the subtle body that can go beyond space-time and experience things outside the phenomenal world. When I think of an object I am already bringing in a separation, the object is something different from myself, the subject. Space-time implies separation – distance between two points or two events. When every object is viewed as an event and the object vanishes, space-time also vanishes. The vanishing of the subject-object duality essentially means that the person has merged with the universe. In this state one has transcended space-time and zero and infinity have come together. The Upanishads describe this as the state in which a person sees everything in himself and himself in everything .
As we have seen, zero and infinity are indivisible. The concept of undivided wholeness is basic to Vedanta and it expresses the omnipresence of God. Again the Upanishads say: ‘He moves and remains still at the same time; He is near as well as far; He is inside as well as outside’ . Everything in the universe is God because it is simply a manifestation of that Ultimate Reality. The first of the four great sentences (mahavakyas) of Vedanta is ‘I am Brahm (Aham Brahmasmi)’. If I am everywhere at the same time, for me there is no space and there is no time. Still there is movement because Brahm is consciousness, which is dynamic. However, now the concept of movement is totally different; space and time are not involved in it. The concept of non-locality in modern physics has come very close to this viewpoint.
In the end we have to think about the distinction between the reality and the knowledge of reality. The uncertainty principle has ramifications far beyond the realm of physics. Any theory, scientific or philosophical, presents only a model of the reality based on the interpretation of the facts known about the reality. A model by very definition is simply a representation of the actual thing, not the thing itself. Just as in mathematics a variable can only tend to zero or infinity, the model is forever trying to get closer to the real. One can never be certain about the degree of correspondence between the knowledge and the reality. The knowledge is a bunch of ideas about reality; the ideas cannot be the reality. The situation is far more complex when it comes to knowing the Ultimate Reality. According to Vedanta God is pure consciousness, which is in every living being. So everything that we perceive or know is through Him; He is the ultimate knower. The subject-object duality precludes the possibility of being conscious of our own consciousness in the same way, as we are conscious of an object. How can the knower be known – is a famous exclamation in Vedanta . Knowledge has two aspects, rational and intuitive; one comes from logic, reasoning, and intelligence, the other from insight and realization. Rational knowledge can never help one uncover the ultimate truth.
1. Svetashvatar Upanishad, 3-20; Kathopanishad, 1-2.20.
2. Kabir Granthavali (Complete Works of Kabir), pp. 169-170,
ed. R. K. Sharma.
3. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol.2, p.135.
4. J. Krishnamurti and David Bohm, The Ending of Time, p.96.
5. Ishopanishad, 5, 6.
6. Brihadaranyak Upanishad, 2-4.14
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