Friday, April 20, 2007


Sages and seers from time immemorial have held that the Truth is beyond reason, transcends the boundary of the physical world and can only be perceived at an intuitive level. Nevertheless, this particular effort seeks to reflect the Truth in the still waters of a dispassionate rational analysis.

A rational approach, based on physical phenomena, may have many limitations but the desire to abandon it is an act of intellectual laziness. While it is true that many mystics have perceived the truth intuitively, it may be more satisfying to take the intuitive approach as a matter of choice and not of necessity.

This analysis begins with the principles of Advaita Vedanta and maps them against known facts from the world of science. Unlike past efforts, we have neither tried to invoke Quantum Mechanics and other forms of modern physics – which are both dated and sometimes as unprovable as religious beliefs themselves – nor used the barren sterility of Artificial Intelligence. The analysis may not be logically complete. We admit that there could be gaps in the chain of argument but we have not taken shelter in the beliefs and mythlogy of religion. Instead we have used mathematics itself to argue that such gaps can never be completely eliminated and we need to learn to live with them. Only at the very last stage – when we are at the edge of the rational and looking at the vista of the infinite – do we invoke the grace of the divine. But even this is not really necessary. We introduce this element as a matter of choice, for personal satisfaction.

We have created a pattern of thoughts by connecting a number of apparently unrelated ideas, namely ..
• The principles of Advaita Vedanta as enunciated by Sankara in the 8th century
• The plausibility of illusions and non-material information transfer
• The computational metaphor of the Universal Turing Machine
• The persistent and evolving nature of the ‘Selfish Gene’
• Godel’s Theorem of Incompleteness

in a manner that is unique and has not been attempted in the past. Without being dogmatic and parochial about the greatness of the the Hindu relegion, we show how this ancient philosophy is not only relevent in the contemporary environment of rational science but how it has infact anticipated thoughts and ideas that have now appeared twelve hundred years later.

The lure of the unknown is irresistible. Any frontier is a challenge for the intrepid few who will want to push it back. This is the spirit of enquiry and enterprise that has taken human civilisation across oceans and now into the deepest reaches of interplanetary space. The boundaries of the physical sciences are no less challenging -- can they be pushed back to include the ultimate truth ? Even if the goal proves elusive, the journey itself is worth the effort. And as we walk along this path it is but natural that we meet fellow travellers with whom it is a pleasure to exchange our thoughts.

Hence instead of using the platform of the we-know-all discourse, we have used the format of a dialogue between a seeker and a sceptic to first articulate, then challenge and finally reaffirm the mosaic of ideas that add up to this unusual image of the Truth.

The last chapter, the thirteenth, is different in style, tone and tenor. After twelve chapters of patient equivalence, of trying to see and address the point of view of the sceptic and carefully constructing logical arguments to defend the primary hypothesis, the last chapter dumps it all in the cauldron of faith, belief and conjecture. If all the logic that has been offered so far has still not been able to convince the reader, then in all probability he or she will never be convinced. So why try any harder ? On the other hand, if by then the reader is sympathetic to the point of view that is being articulated, then it is more likely than not that the he or she would have little difficulty in accepting the idea.

So the final chapter replaces dialogue with didacticism. It is a straightforward essay with a simple, unambiguous, though possibly controversial, message that articulates a specific world view. This view could have been delivered directly as a sermon or a discourse but we hope that its acceptability will be far higher if, and only if, one has read through the dialogues in the first twelve chapters.

To borrow a phrase from Tavleen Singh, the author believes that this book explains how the cosmos works. If someone else has a better explanation then please let us know. We are willing to listen.

Preface to the Second Edition

Like the fifth postulate of Euclid, the twelfth chapter of this book has been a source of discomfort both for me as well as for some of my friends and readers. The need to introduce the Divine to plug a loophole in my logic – an inevitable loophole, given the limitations of the Gödel’s Theorem of Incompleteness – was rather irritating and yet it seemed that there is nothing I could do about it. Then I met a friend who alerted me to the existence of a very simple concept that was functionally analogous and one that would allow me to bridge the gap. But does it work ? and have I succeeded in doing so ? That question is best answered by the reader I suppose.

Technology has moved significantly since the first edition and nowhere is this more evident than in the area of 3D displays. Direct connectivity between the human brain and a digital device has also improved dramatically but we are yet to reach the level of maturity that is necessary to blur the border between the real and illusory as envisaged in “Are You Real”, the experimental movie referred to in the book. In a pre-Google era, I would have tried to list down some references to these technologies but today I refrain from doing so because the reader can easily locate more recent references by searching on the web.

The final and perhaps the most important reason for this edition is that the print-on-demand technology with which this book is printed is now available in India and so the total cost of procuring this book – including delivery – is now far less. Hence after acknowledging my gratitude to for introducing me to this technology I have now moved over to who I am sure would be doing as good a job in printing and delivering this book.

Prithwis Mukerjee

Kharagpur, India
Dolyatra / Holi : 19th March 2011 – a Supermoon day !

1 - Rollover 2000

Midnight @ Hill View, Purulia, 31st December 1999

Why do you insist on calling this a rollover when the rest of the world is going gaga over the millennium ?

Two reasons : First the millennium begins in 2001, not 2000 and second, what millennium ? Of Jesus Christ ? That is of very little relevance to us who are not Christians .... we could have started the count from any other avatar like Krishna or perhaps Gautama Buddha.

But why "rollover"

Because all the digits on the date -- day, month and all four characters of the year -- would change simultaneously. The dates would look quite different, there is a certain novelty about it but not worth traveling all the way to the Andamans to see the same old sun rise out of the same old sea. Are we not quite comfortable here at Purulia today ...

You may not celebrate but you still attach some significance to this date ... otherwise you would not be engaging in this dialogue and then writing it down as well

True. Having accepted the Gregorian calendar, I have no choice but to record the rollover.

So what stops you from celebrating the millennium ? or rather the pre-millennium.

This is a free country, we can celebrate anything on any date. We have accepted the Christian calendar for convenience, not out of any conviction -- just as is the case of English language. The global economy is after all dominated by the Christian currency, the dollar and now the euro. So it does not make sense to break step and be pushed over ...

So you do accept and acknowledge the might and majesty of western civilization and its impact on culture and society

I hate to be either comparative or defensive but once again there are two perspectives. First, the grandeur of western civilization is a recent phenomenon. In a history spanning millions of years, of which we remember perhaps the last 5000, rational science -- that forms the basis of today's grand edifice, has been in prominence for only the last 500 years. This is but a wink of an eyelid on the face of eternal time -- who knows what will happen in the next 5000 years. Secondly, western civilization is successful along one the potentially many dimensions of the human experience. A long stick loses its size when viewed from the end. A sheet of paper appears non-existent if viewed along the edge.

But the length of the stick is important -- to gauge the depth of a river and the spread of the sheet of paper is good to write on. What is wrong with that ?

Nothing. Rational science has many uses and they are too well known to be repeated here. But then a stick is no good to write upon and a sheet of paper is no good to keep things in. For that you need to move into another dimension. Similarly, rational science is necessary and sufficient for many of the wonders of the world. It may not be necessary and is certainly not sufficient for many other things.

Like ...

The mystery of the human mind, or rather the human psyche, and of course the biggest mystery of them all -- the question of creation. Who, if at all anyone, created all this and why ?

Are you kidding ? Science has progressively pushed back the layers of ignorance to reveal more and more of the unknown. The movement of the planets, the weather, the cause of disease and its cure. You name it and either science has solved the problem or is in the process of doing so. It is only a matter of time.

But all these are in the domain of the physical world. There are other worlds that are delineated by the mindscape -- both individual and collective -- of the intelligent being. These worlds are visible or perceptible to mystics and sages and sometimes to those who are under the influence of certain hallucinogenic drugs.

These "worlds", if you could call them as such, do not exist. They are simply the products of a vivid imagination.

How can you say that they do not exist ? You may not have seen or experienced them but countless others have, for example Gautama Buddha, Ramakrishna, Aurobindo, and if you step outside India, we have people like Blake, Meister and Jesus himself. These people were neither fools nor charlatans. Would you not believe them ?

This is not a question of belief. Science can prove things to me. I do not have to believe anything.

But are you ready and prepared to understand these so called proofs ? Do you understand the proofs of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity ? You need not be ashamed -- very few people do !!

I may not be able to fathom the proof but there are other more knowledgeable people who have tested out these things and I have faith in their words.

Aha. That brings us back to "faith". You say you believe certain people -- possibly scientists who are on the editorial boards of respectable journals or who carry out certain experiments -- who certify that Einstein's theory is correct, even though you have no direct evidence or proof. Then what is your difficulty in having faith on Vivekananda when he says that Ramakrishna showed him the face of god.

But if I am intelligent enough and if I spend the time to learn mathematics and physics, I will be able to understand the relativity. The process is repeatable and demonstrable. Can we carry through a similar process and arrive at god ?

Of course. In this case you would need, instead of intelligence, a measure of certain cognitive abilities and you must learn the ways of the adept -- the techniques of sadhana -- thoroughly. Then you can see what the mystics can see. But this may take a very long time and you must have the patience and perseverance.

That opens up two more issues : First, what are these special cognitive abilities that one must have and second, the physical world is something that I can touch and feel. It is real. Not so in the case of psychic world that you say exists for the mystics.

Let me address the second issue first. You say that the physical world is real and that you can touch and feel it. I will challenge your confidence here. Can you see, touch and feel the atoms and molecules that form this world. Our faith in the logical explanation given to us by scientists allows us to believe that they really exist plus of course we have certain indirect evidence. For example the images on the screen of an electron microscope or the marks left on a photographic plate. So there is a veil or middle layer between the observer and what is being observed that reflects or distorts the true picture. However this distortion is minimized by refining our tools and applying adequate intelligence and logical reasoning. The same is true in the psychic world. There is some truth out there but it is veiled and distorted by a middle layer of perception. This is picturesquely referred to as Maya. This Maya must be corrected by using some tools and techniques and by applying, not intelligence, but something else.

What is that ?

This brings us to your first question. The cognitive abilities that help us to perceive the psychic truth can, for the lack of better word, be referred to as intuition. Just as logic and intelligence are the tools that help us to understand the physical world so are intuition and insight when it comes to tools that help us to probe the mental landscape.

Intelligence and logical reasoning is available to varying degrees in all humans. What about insight and intuition ?

That too is available in different degrees with different individuals. Just as some people are more intelligent than others so are some people more intuitive than others.

That is a very generic statement. Can you prove it ?

I will but first let me protest at your need for a "proof". Proof is something that is very common in the world of logic and intelligence. Here we are deliberately moving away from that world. So proofs lose their significance. Instead of proving something we must move into the paradigm of "experiencing" something.

Fair enough, but I would still hold that you have made a very generic statement about the dichotomy between logic and intuition

The human brain has two halves: the left and the right. Many functions are duplicated, for redundancy, across both halves but the left half is dominated by the faculties that deal with analytical and rational activities. The right side deals with our emotional and intuitive abilities. This is well documented in the rational literature of modern science. To put it crudely, this means that in scientists and mathematicians, the left brain is more developed but in case of artists, musicians and mystics the right side is more active. So there is physiological basis for determining why some people are more logical, analytical and perhaps more "intelligent" while others are more emotional and intuitive. I am not talking blue skies here ....

That was a very long digression .... where were we ?

I was responding to your statement about the might and majesty of western civilization. Without denying your observation, I wish to highlight the Hindu perspective that is as, if not more, significant.

What is this Hindu perspective ?

The spiritual and mystic angle ..

You are falling back into the tired cliché of how Hindus are not materialistic, that they are a spiritual people. That is a joke. Would you call Harshad Mehta or Jayalalitha spiritual ? Or are you saying that our farmers, traders, engineers and computer programmers are spiritually inclined. They want money and power as much as anybody else. Their spirituality begins and ends with a tilak on the forehead.

Agreed. The vast majority of Indians are motivated by greed but there is a slim minority that is capable of transcending this level. This is no different from the situation that prevails in US and Europe. However there are two differences...

What are these ?

First, the proportion of spiritually inclined people within the population is higher in India and secondly this slim minority is heard and to a certain extent even respected by the rest of the population. All of us may not be able to emulate Vivekananda and become sanyasis but many of us have a great regard for his ideals and try to follow in his footsteps.

But even in the Christian world, people go to church. There are hundreds of church denominations, priests, bishops. The Vatican is an empire in itself.

I am not an authority on Christianity so I will not try to analyze this further. All that I say is that in the Hindu scheme of things, our goals are very simple -- the realization of what, for the lack of a better word, is called God --the Brahman.

Is that a physical entity ?

I wish I knew, but then I am far away from this realization. Those who have realized Brahman -- the Buddha, Ramakrishna or the anonymous sages who have written the Upanishads, have tried very hard to describe their realization. But all these descriptions are flawed and cannot give the true picture.

Why is that ?

These descriptions are based on language -- a construct that is rooted in our rational, left brain faculties. The realization on the other hand is at an emotional, intuitive level and is a right brain capability. There is a fundamental disconnect that is impossible to bridge. Hence the Brahman has to be realized, it cannot be realized.

But what is the use of realizing the Brahman ? Will it help me in any way ?

Utility, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Money or Power may be very important for someone. Fair enough, I have no quarrel with them as long as they do not hurt others in the process of acquisition. But money and power may not be important for others who seek beauty in art and nature. Happiness or pleasure can be derived from many things, but the bliss that is experienced when one realizes the Brahman is unparalleled.

How do you know ? Have you experienced it ?

No I have not, but I have faith in the words of those who have -- Vivekananda, Aurobindo

Why would you believe them ?

Why not ? If I come back from a trip to Darjeeling and tell you that the Kanchenjungha is a wonderful sight, would you not believe me ? Perhaps you will, but even if you do not, fair enough, do I really care ? Someone else will. I have no axe to grind and neither did the great sages.

We have digressed again, where were we ?

I was trying to explain why the Hindu perspective -- that seeks to realize the Brahman -- is important and significant.

Can we come back to that please ?

It is the Christian bible that I believe states that "money is the root of all evil", to which Mark Twain added that it was the lack of money that was the real root of all evil ...

But I thought that you were trying to prove just the opposite ... that money is not all that important .

Patience .... that was just an illustration. I was trying to establish that the lack of happiness (that Mr. Twain equated to money..) is the root of all evil. This happiness -- true happiness -- can only come in the form of spiritual bliss. This absolute happiness can only come when we realize the Brahman.

I am confused. If happiness is my goal then what is wrong with pursuing the western model of rational enquiry that leads to civil order and economic prosperity.

There is not contradiction. The western model leads to a level of material prosperity and happiness but only up to a point. Not beyond that. When there is intense hunger and poverty we need the western model to bring a modicum of comfort, dignity and sense of well being. Without this, man is reduced to the barbarism of the animal world. But this basic level of comfort is not enough. Material comfort is not synonymous with true happiness. It is necessary, but not sufficient. To be truly happy, mankind, as a whole or at least specific individuals, must move beyond mere economic prosperity and into the domain of spiritual fulfillment -- the realization of the Brahman.

That was quite a mouthful. Let me take a simple test case. Do you mean to say that people in "spiritual" India are more happy than people in the "materialistic" United States ? I don't believe that. Had that been the case, there would not have been the long queue for the US Green Card.

You are making it too simplistic. The world cannot be described in pure black and white. We need the shades and nuances of grey...

Your are trying to duck the question.

No I am not. Let us begin be defining a level of economic prosperity -- a level that can be measured or expressed in various units like per capita income, per capita calorie intake or average disposable income. As long as an individual has not achieved this level of prosperity, his goal would be economic advancement. In India, the number of people below this level is huge -- both in absolute terms as well the fraction of the population. These individuals are always trying to do various things to improve their economic status and this includes immigration to the US.

And what about those who have achieved their desired goals of economic comfort ?

These are people for whom spiritual happiness is more important...and for these people, it is more advantageous to be in India. They can take advantage of the ambient environment of spirituality that makes this land and its people so unique.

But first we need to be as rich and prosperous like the Americans before we seek spiritual bliss ...

We need to be economically comfortable. This level of economic comfort varies with individuals. Some are comfortable with two square meals a day while others need a crore of rupees in the bank before they are comfortable. But whatever may be the level, it is necessary to achieve it before once can look for spiritual progress. However those whose expectations are low can hope to achieve this level faster and begin their spiritual journey much earlier. This is perhaps why some people admire "plain living and high thinking"

It has been quite a while since we have been talking ... but where have we arrived so far ?

There are two dimensions to human progress -- an economic dimension and a spiritual dimension. Rational behavior leads to economic progress but this is not enough for the highest states of human happiness. Man must take an emotional and intuitive approach to progress along the spiritual dimension and this will lead to the ultimate bliss -- when he becomes conscious of the nature of Brahman and himself becomes a part of the Universal Consciousness. That is Nirvana.

What must one do to progress along the spiritual dimension ?

I wish I had a clear answer to that question but all that I can say at the moment is that there are many ways to move forward. Different sages and seers have practised, advocated and taught different techniques -- all of which can be loosely classified under the broad concept of Yoga.

Yoga ! you mean the body contorting exercises that we see on TV and read about in magazines.

That is only a small part of the much larger domain of Yoga. Literally, Yoga means union of the individual consciousness with the divine consciousness. There are hundred of yogic techniques -- some physical, some mental and some psychic, that if practised diligently and sincerely will lead to the ultimate Yoga.

Can you teach me some of these practices ?

No. I am not an adept. I do not know enough. You must find some one who knows these things and take his help in moving forward.

How shall I find such a person ?

When the time is ripe and you have achieved the right frame of mind and an appropriate level of maturity, a set of circumstances will propel in the right direction.

You are being extremely vague and evasive. Can you please explain this "right frame of mind" business ?

It is an elusive concept and very difficult to articulate in words. A crude but effective analogy would be the sexual act. Unlike the purely physical acts of touching the nose or lifting a leg, a sexual state like an ejaculation or an orgasm cannot be achieved by mere will or desire. One must create a conducive set of circumstances -- that may involve thoughts, images, sounds and actions, under which the mind and body react in a manner that leads the individual to a state that is extremely pleasurable.

Are you saying that sex leads to spiritual progress ?

No. I am merely using it as an analogy. Pieces of glass can be used to represent diamonds, but diamonds are far more precious than pieces of glass.

But I believe that Tantriks use sexual techniques to attain spiritual progress ....

As I had said before, there are many ways of reaching the goal. Yoga is an umbrella concept. It encompasses many tools and techniques. Tantra falls within the overall ambit of Yoga but Tantra itself has many schools of thoughts. Some of these schools believe in using the sexual imagery.

We are drifting into details. Can you please give me a broad picture of the various approaches that one might take...

That is not difficult. I think it was Vivekananda who had enunciated the classification : (a) Karma Yoga -- the path of work and service without expecting any reward, (b) Bhakti Yoga -- where the seeker drowns himself in pure and unalloyed belief, devotion and adoration. (c) Gyana Yoga -- that involves a thorough study and deep knowledge of all available sources of spiritual guidance, and (d) Raja Yoga -- where the mind is used a powerful instrument to look within itself and see the reflection of the divine. These four streams of Yoga are not mutually exclusive. Many sages traverse a creative combination of two, three or even four paths.

Can you explain each of these paths in greater detail ?

No I am not knowledgeable enough to explain the specific nuances of each of these schools of thought and even if I could, it would take too long.

If you were to choose a path, which one would you take ?

I am too lazy to be a true Karma Yogi and I have not been initiated into the path of Raja Yoga. As a student of science I am more comfortable with handling Gyana or knowledge but I believe that Bhakti or devotion is the final catalyst.

Are you sure that this is the right path ?

Perhaps I am wrong but let me tell you what the Healer had to say to Satyananda in the closing chapters of Bankimcandra’s novel – Anandamath :

The true Hindu rule of life is based on knowledge, not action. And this knowledge is of two kinds – outward and inward. The inward knowledge is the chief part of the Eternal Code, but unless the outward knowledge arises first, the inward cannot arise. Unless one knows the gross, one cannot know the subtle.[1]

What is the outward knowledge ?

It is the knowledge of science and technology based on rational enquiry and investigation.

Now wait a minute ! You had started this dialogue with the premise that my faith in the might and majesty of western civilization is misplaced. That its impact on contemporary society and culture is transient. And now after all this you have the cheek to come and tell me that science and technology – which is one of the cornerstones and crown jewels of this way of life – is important. Am I missing something ? Somewhere ?

The world of full of paradoxes and perhaps it is best that you learn to live with them.

Is this a paradox or is this a contradiction or – if you allow me to be generous – a confusion on your part ?

Thank you for your generosity but let me clear this confusion for you. As I have just said, or quoted from Anandamath, the knowledge on which the Hindu rule of life is based consists of two kinds of knowledge : internal and external. The rivers of this ‘external’ knowledge have unfortunately run dry in this country. So we cannot follow their course back to the fountainhead, the well spring of ‘internal’ knowledge, where the Truth in all its crystalline clarity, gushes out to quench our thirst. That is why the Hindu way of life – the Sanatan Dharma, the Eternal Code, has become confined to this dry ritualism of polytheistic idolatry.

So what do you suggest ? Go back to science and technology again ?

Yes. You need to master these techniques, rejuvenate this external knowledge or at least know and acknowledge them before you can have the confidence to walk along the path that leads to the inward or subtle knowledge.

Can share the experiences of walking along this path ?

I am not yet ready for the journey so let me prepare myself and then we can meet again ..

When ? and where ?

Meet me after seven years … at the chai-shop on the Road to the pSingularity – the primordial Singularity

[1] Anandamath or the Sacred Brotherhood, Bankimcandra Chatterji, translated by Julius Lipner, Oxford University Press. Part IV, Chapter 8, page 229

2 - Beyond CHAIPANI

It has been six years and ten months since our dialogue at Hill View.

And a lot of things have happened in between.

Mostly terrible things though … nothing to make me smile.

Why ? The Great Indian Story is panning out in its wonderful detail … Software companies are going great guns, the GDP growth has doubled from the pitiful 4% ‘Hindu’ rate of growth ! You should be all smiles.

Oh really, you make me yawn.

Why are you so cynical ?

Because I can see that behind all this glitter there is a mountain of misery that still torments this country …. the disease – polio and dengue are back, the despair that lurks in the eye of those who have been marginalized into poverty ..

You are talking like a politician who is currently sitting in the opposition .. they are the ones who cannot see anything good that is happening in the country.

Perhaps I am, but it is these very politicians – cutting across all party barriers – who are the reason why India continues to wallow in a cesspool of poverty and distress.

That is a cliché repeated so often, say something new …

I will but let me reinforce this point with three examples of how politicians are ruining the country.

Go ahead ..

First look the reservation policy. Our education system is the only one thing that we had to look the world in the eye. The IITs – something to be proud of – and here we are ruining them by forcing them out of their ability to nurture the elite – the educational elite, not the financial or political elite.


And then we have communists who would go to any length to wreck any meaningful economic activity and stall any reform process .. and they are hand in glove with the bureaucrats in the public sector who too would go any length to preserve their right to loot the public exchequer ..

And what is the third ?

Why … our new found enthusiasm for the terrorists who kill and maim in the name of Islam. We know who they are … and yet we hesitate to move against them because it will hurt the national vote banks ..

Vote banks … have you not hit the nail on the head.

What do you mean ?

Look … all three examples that you quoted can be traced back to our fatal obsession with vote bank politics.

I agree … and that is what makes me even more despondent.

Why ?

Because of the maxim that as are the people, so is the prince.

So ?

Do you not see that what this means is that the fault dear Brutus is not in our politicians but in us that we are undeserving underlings … condemned to a second-class or perhaps even a third-class existence.

But I thought for a moment that you were trying to blame our politicians for this misery ..

Sometimes you may have to go for the unreal to know the real … look for the image to see the reality.

You are talking in riddles …

Perhaps I am … but the fact remains that while politicians are the easy scapegoats that we intellectuals tend to blame in coffee table discussions ( like this ) the real culprit is that we as a nation are ‘like this only’. We are a nation that is awful enough to vote for, elect and in a sense entrust our destiny to, a bunch of hypocrites and thugs ..

Is that not true for other nations ? Have the Americans not elected Bush ?

Could be true, I am not here to lecture you on comparative politics, but perhaps we are an order of magnitude worse.

Worse than tribal Africa ? Worse than the medieval Middle East ?

As I said, I am not into comparative politics … and my only interest is in the land that lies in the shadow of the Himalayas.

OK, so tell me about India … and about Indians.

Have you heard of CHAIPANI ?

You mean tea and snacks ? Of course ..

That is the literal translation … but in India, or at least in the Hindi belt of Northern India, chaipani means more … the little extra that gets things done.

Bribes ? So what about it ? Are you talking about corruption ?

Chaipani, for me is an icon for India – as it was, as it is and as it will be …

I do not get you at all …

Fine, let me start … C is for corruption .. pervasive, inevitable and absolute. An extraordinary large percentage of us are either personally corrupt, and so find it quite OK to bribe others, or given the slightest opportunity would happily become corrupt. And interestingly enough we have given to ourselves laws that encourage the practice of corruption at every conceivable opportunity. Any Indian in any position of authority or in any position that allows him or her to exercise discretion for the benefit of anyone else … will, with a high degree of probability, take advantage of this position – monetarily or otherwise, without batting an eyelid.

That is quite an indictment …

H is for hypocrisy. No nation is as hypocritical as we are. We swear by equality and egalitarianism and many of us, the educated types, may have put the caste system behind us .. but look at the matrimonial columns and you will see categories based on caste.

But it is dying out ..

Perhaps but it will take a long time. Caste may not be irrelevant for many of us – and that includes me as well – but that is not the point. I am not questioning the belief per se, but let us admit that what we say is far removed from what we believe in ! And that is true not just in the case of caste … we have the Orwellian tendency of meaning the opposite of what we intend to say. Hence trade unions claim to champion the cause of labour but covertly act as agents of unscrupulous management. We know very well that our cities are getting choked but still condone and even encourage illegal slums and settlements to create vote banks. We have no qualms of reaping the benefits of work outsourced from the US but out own bank employees go on strike when Indian banks plan to outsource their own work. We know very well that foreign funded madrasas are the breeding grounds of Muslim terrorists and yet we pretend that being secular and inclusive is the right path to nirvana.

I see what you mean .. but is this hypocrisy ?

It is a very peculiar behavior and for the lack of a better word, I shall stick to hypocrisy to describe it .. and the more you look, the more it strikes you in the face.

You are right … we condemn apartheid and yet we have no qualms of referring to coloured Americans as “kallus”. This is the land of Kama Sutra and while we have no qualms about inviting tourists to Khajuraho we go to great extents to stop sex education among our own kids. We celebrate the Ras Leela of Radha and Krishna and then in the same breath, breathe fire and brimstone about Valentine’s Day. If you have a better word to describe this situation then I would be happy to use it .

But that will upset your H in Chaipani !! Anyway you have A next .. what is that for ?

A is for Anarchic … we are truly anarchic. We will not obey traffic rules and are rude to our fellow drivers and yet we sullenly resent when others, especially traffic police are equally rude and offensive to us. We cannot resolve any dispute in a civil manner .. we will have bandhs, morchas, rail and rasta roko-s, with murder and mayhem as necessary collaterals.

But that is because our government would not listen otherwise.

That is because the government – or for that matter anyone in authority – is equally anarchic. Those who frame the rules are the first to break them – our lawmakers are our biggest lawbreakers – and if we cannot break them, we will find a million loopholes so that the law itself becomes a joke.

Why is that ?

Well, that will loop us back to the C – for corruption and it also points forward to the next letter of chaipani … I for Incompetence.

Incompetence ?

We are terrible in doing anything worthwhile. Our constitution is the longest in the world and has had to be amended the most ! Our laws are so incomprehensively convoluted that they are open to the most virulent abuse. We cannot manage our own affairs … no project in India, government projects in particular, have ever finished in time … and when they do get finished, the deliverables are terrible. Look at the mess that we have created with our streets, the traffic, the airports … our telephones never used to work until they were privatized ..

Would that not mean that it is our government that is incompetent and not the people ?

Our government consists of our own people .. we have no foreign rulers here ..

Perhaps our government is structured in such a manner that only incompetent people reach positions of authority, where they can take incorrect decisions ..

That is bigger incompetence ! or should I say meta-incompetence !! We as a nation are so incompetent in managing our own affairs that the worst, most incompetent, most corrupt people end up in positions where they can cause the maximum damage to society. What could be more damming than this ..

The CHAI – or tea – that you have brewed for us is very dark and strong. C for Corruption, H for Hypocrisy, A for Anarchy and now I for Incompetence .. all this can leave a very bitter taste in the mouth.

Do not panic ! I have some clear PANI – water – for you to freshen your mouth with !

Surely you must be joking Mr. Seeker !

Not at all, not at all. Consider the next letter – P for Patience. We as a nation have infinite patience to tolerate this litany of woes. Any other society would perhaps have given up their ghost by now.

Iraq exists, so does Somalia and Nigeria …

True …but let us look up at societies that are better placed .. looking downwards does not help.

So you ask us to be Patient ..

Patience gives us the wherewithal to tolerate all this crap … this Corruption, Hypocrisy, Anarchy and Incompetence .. but to evolve, to move forward .. we need something to look up to .. and fortunately, we do have some positives ..

Good .. and what is that ?

A for Advaita Vedanta ! The crown jewel of our intellectual achievement.

What on earth is that ?

The school of philosophy on which the entire edifice of our intellect is built. First enunciated by Sankara in the 8th Century, it has been refined over the ages by a succession of intellectual giants .. of whom the last two are Aurobindo and Vivekananda.

Can you explain …

I will, I will .. but it will take some time.

Can you be brief ..

It is a long story but in essence it says that there is just one truth and that is Brahman – not Brahma, the four faced god who is a part of the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – but the Brahman of the pure consciousness.

What is the nature of this Brahman ?

You have led me to the next letter N for Negation.

What does that mean ?

This Brahman cannot be described in the normal language. It has no attributes … you can attempt to describe it through a set of negatives … not solid, not liquid, not any known shape, not of any known colour … in fact we could go on and on with a set of negatives and we would still not reach the goal. In fact we must negate the existence the physical world itself to reach the core of Advaita.

Negation ? as a fundamental principle ? This is awkward … we cannot have a world of negatives, there has to be something positive, something real … somewhere ..

Negation, nothingness is a very crucial part of the Hindu world view. You can see this in the fact that the modern numeric system, based on the zero, which has emerged out of India uses the same word Shunya for both zero as well as empty. Brahman is the only truth, the only positive – if you really want to use the word – but words are not the right vehicles to carry the message here.

How can you do without words ?

You have to rely on the I for Intuition. That is the only tool that we can use and trust. This huge edifice of Advaita and the concept of nothingness on which it rests can only be understood, can only be realized at an intuitive level. That is how saints, saints here in India and elsewhere … like Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, Sankara .. right down to Ramakrishna get a glimpse of the ultimate truth … that is how they attain Nirvana.

So you say that CHAIPANI is the key ?

This acronym was just my way to describe the situation. The dark hopelessness of CHAI is where we find ourselves and to wipe out all that darkness, we seek the cool, clarity of PANI. We are stuck. We find ourselves in a situation where we find ourselves in a cul-de-sac of hopeless despair … of corruption, hypocrisy, anarchy and incompetence …and yet, a situation where, if we have the patience to delve into the depths of advaita, it is possible to negate all these and intuitively find a path to the ultimate goal.

What is that goal ?

That is known only to those who have reached it.

I understand goals like health, wealth, fame, peace … how can I reach for a goal that I cannot even articulate ?

Then you have to wallow in the triviality that you understand … for me all this stuff is trivial .. I yearn for the ultimate Truth, the pure consciousness .. which again for the lack of a better word we shall refer to as Shiva : The Good.

And you claim that Vedanta is the only way out and forward ? Is that not too arrogant ? Is it not that there could be as many paths to the goal as there are travelers ? Are you not following into the same pattern as that of the people of the Book ? Just like the followers of middle eastern religions that say that salvation lies if and only if you follow their exclusive path .. the path defined in the Book – whatever Book that may be ..

Not at all … please feel free to traverse any path that you want .. but in the end you will end up here .. and I will be here to walk along again with you.

Well if I have to come back and start here .. I might as well do it right now ! But can you explain all this to me ?

It is a matter of realization, not understanding … but we can always try to, and then if we are lucky enough, we may get a glimpse of the basics of Advaita Vedanta.

3 - Basics of Advaita Vedanta

What is Advaita Vedanta ?

It is a rather and complex subject but I shall try to explain to the extent that I understand it at the moment and to the extent to that I can articulate what I seem to understand …

You are being very cautious but please go ahead.

It is one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy and in the opinion of many, including me, the one that is most complete and in a sense the best.

One of the six ? what are the others ?

Well you have Charvak’s school of extreme materialism at one end – where he says, wreenam kritwa, ghreetam pibet drink ghee, even if you have to borrow money for it : or in short make merry at the cost of anything else – and the other end we have Patanjali’s Yoga – the classical school of asceticism that is based on ethical behavior, physical and metabolic activities and intense, introspective meditation. And then you have a few others schools of thought.

Like what ?

We have the school of logic, Nyaya, and this is used by many other systems as a foundation for reasoning and debate. We have the school of Vaisesika, that considers visesa, or uniqueness, as an important aspect of reality. Then we have Samkhya which introduced the duality of Purusha and Prakriti.

What is that ?

We will come to that later, but let me complete the list. Samkhya is the foundation of Buddhism as enunciated by the Buddha, even though his followers deviated from that path and then we have Mimamsa, which in a sense to leads us to that exalted pinnacle of the Hindu world view that is Vedanta. … and all these schools of thought try to address in their own way some basic questions like
* Who am I ? From where have I come from and why ? What is the relationship between me and the universe and other human beings ?
* What is the essential nature of my being and what is the essential of the universe ?
* What is the relationship between consciousness and the objects of the universe ?
* What is truth and how do we arrive at rational conclusions on the question of truth ?

So where does Advaita Vedanta lie ?

It is not quite a linear spectrum so that I cannot say that it lies so far from one end … but in a sense, it builds upon the work of Patanjali and Visishta-Advaita and was articulated most elegantly by Sankara – who was born in Kerala in the 8th century AD.

The same Sankara who created the four maths or institutions at Dwaraka, Kedarnath, Puri and Sringeri …

Yes at the four corners of the country … to reestablish the Sanatan Dharma in the face of aggressive Buddhism.

One second, are we talking about religion or philosophy ?

Let me step back for a moment .. and restart. The word Hindu religion is a misnomer and it does not exist in the lexicon of the people who are supposed to be Hindus ..

I know it was created by Greeks to refer to the people who lived to the east of the Indus or the Sindhu river.

So unlike the religions that are based on “books” that is Judaism, Christianity, Islam or their common ancestor Zoroastrianism that emerged out of Persia, the way of life of the so called Hindus is guided by a set of principles that are referred to as Sanatan Dharma, or the Perennial Philosophy.

But still these so called Hindus have some religious texts – the vedas, the upanishads, the brahmana, the puranas and the great epics. This is what Hindu philosophy should be based on .. is it not ?

They do, but if you observe closely the Hindu word for philosophy is Darshan and this can be loosely translated as vision, sight or even better insight.

So are you saying that the philosophy is world view ? Are you not playing semantic games ?

Darshan refers to the insight that certain individuals had – these individuals are referred to as Rishis, the learned ones – into the nature of the universe. Their articulation – to the extent that this was possible using the finite grammar of a language – and the subsequent attempts to interpret these articulations have resulted in a set of codes of conduct that were of importance for the stability of human civilisation. The set of codes represent the Dharma or religion of the land – the ‘Hindu’ religion or Sanatan Dharma – but the original insights form the basis of the philosophy – and in this case we are interested in the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta.

Sankara was the one with the original insight ?

No – he came much later and it is to his credit that he interpreted the Vedas, the Upanishads -- referred to as end of the Vedas or Vedanta – and came out with an exquisite, coherent and consistent description of the nature of the universe.

But all schools of Hindu philosophy – with the possible exception of Charvak – are based on the Vedas and Vedanta .. so what is different here ?

Let me begin with the basic tenets of Advaita, to the extent that I am aware of them.

Are you being modest or being sarcastic.

Neither, only being truthful … for if I really knew or had the first hand experience of Advaita, then I would not be – or need not have to be – explaining all this to you or anyone else.

Curious, but I shall let that pass.

The world Advaita can be literally translated as non-Dual.

Is that what you refer to as Singularity.

Yes, but there are scholars who would not accept that word, they will say it is not Dual, but whether it is Singular or not is debatable.

Sheer semantics.

True, but as I keep repeating, the fact that I am speaking (or writing ) this and you are listening to me .. means that I am not yet free from the limitations of Semantics .. and you have to learn to live with this ..

OK .. no offence meant

None taken, except that we are slowing down. So let me continue with the three principal characters of this great play - the Atman, the Brahman and Maya.

And who are they ?

Atman - the Self : The entire phenomenal world is bound by time, space and causation and as long as one is confined by these concepts, the experience is limited. Beyond the realms of time and space, there is an absolute and unconditional Reality that has no beginning and no end. That is Atman, the Self. The Self cannot be experienced by the senses. This Self is both within and outside the body. Unlike the body it is beyond death and decay. The Self is the fountainhead of the life force that animates and motivates the mind-body complex. According to Sankara, this Self is the all-pervading, self-illumined Consciousness.

Brahman - the Supreme Consciousness : Brahman is the ultimate Truth within and without. Brahman is also all-pervading and self-illumined Consciousness and the relationship of the Brahman to the Self is that of the forest to the tree. The entire universe emanates from Brahman, exists in Brahman and at the time of dissolution returns into Brahman. Stepping beyond the primitive monotheism of the Judeo-Christian philosophy/theology, Sankara asserts that the individual Atman and the universal Brahman are one and the same and the concept of a creator that is distinct from the creation is a cosmic illusion.

Maya - the Illusion : The phenomenal universe that can be perceived by the senses is actually an illusion called Maya. This Maya is what causes human beings to perceive worldly phenomena and respond to the environment. Vedanta states that Maya shields the Truth or Brahman from the Self or Atman. The concepts of time and space that veil the face of Truth are aspects of Maya. Because Maya veils the Truth, the individual Atman misconstrues both the world and itself as different from the Truth or Brahman.[1]

The concept of Non-Dualism or Advaita, goes back to the luminous era of pre-Mahabharat India ..

I see that you are consciously avoiding a reference to the dim, dark past of history !

Yes, for me it was neither dim nor dark .. because it was in these Vedic or Upanishadic era someone visualized ( remember “Darshan” is insight ) this idea – this spark of illumination – and it was subsequently developed by Sankara around the 8th century and elaborated by many others including Vivekananda.

And what was this spark all about ?

At the core of Advaita is the startling assertion : Brahma satya, Jagat mithya – the Divine is Real, the World is Unreal. For the lack of a better word, I have translated Brahma as the Divine, but it could also use terms like the Universal Consciousness or the Universal Soul none of which however are quite adequate.

I suppose this Brahma is different from the four faced ‘god’ of creation ..

Good point, you are right .. Brahma, the four faced ‘god’ is one of the members of the Hindu trinity … but that is more of mythology and doctrinal religion, far removed, and in a sense irrelevant to the principles that we are dealing with in Advaita. Here the word Brahma refers to the Brahman that I had introduced in the Dramatis Personae of our Advaita story.

The first part of the statement, in its English translation, certainly seems like a self-defining axiomatic play on words, but given the limitation of the language I can let it pass. But I have some difficulty with the second part of the statement – that asserts that the world as we know it is unreal – is very startling. How is it that the world that we KNOW so well be not real. … How can all this be illusory ?

Perhaps you have to learn to give up this most cherished belief ..

How can this be ? How can this world be unreal ? The world has form and shape, colour and texture that we can see, feel, hear, taste and smell. This observable world has a persistence across time, space and individuals. We know that the Taj Mahal has existed for the past 500 years and countless individuals have recorded its existence over generations. Fossil records date back even longer and if one were to look at astronomical evidence then we have records stretching back to the Big Bang, that created the observable universe. In the face of such irrefutable evidence, any attempt to deny the existence of all these observable objects as well as the physical existence of millions of conscious observers is impossible, if not downright absurd.

I know that this is like running into an impregnable wall – a wall that has been built with the bricks of meticulous observations and resting on a solid foundation of logic and rationality. I do not deny that this is difficult but as I said before, we have to learn how to give up our most cherished beliefs and learn to accept the inevitability of living with illusions.[2]

[1] This brief introduction to Vedanta is based on the book "Seven Systems of Indian Philosophy" by Pandit Rajamani Tigunait, Ph.D. ISBN 0-89389-076-6 © 1983 by The Himalayan International Institute

[2] Ya Devi Sarvabhuteshu Bhranti-roopena Sangsthita, Namastasyai Namamstasyai Namastasyai, Namoh Namaha – Salutations to the Devi who abides in all beings in the form of Error or Illusion.

4 - Living with Illusions

What do you mean about living with illusions ?

We must learn to understand and appreciate that all that we see – and touch and feel and taste etc – with our sensory organs may not be what they seem to be … but a representation of something else.

You are challenging the basic theory of perception … and you seem to have no qualms about it.

I have no qualms at all and there are three distinct approaches of addressing this issue if you consider
* Quantum Mechanics and the associated concepts that encompass the Uncertainty Principle and the Many Worlds Interpretation
* The emerging technology of nerve implants coupled with vivid 3D computer displays which are helping us realize the ideas put forth by science fiction novels and movies like the Matrix
* Virtual worlds inhabited by Massively Multi-user Online Role Playing Games of which Second Life is the perhaps the most advanced.

Can you please explain each of these in greater detail ?

Let us begin with Quantum Mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle which says that irrespective of the precision of your instrument, you cannot measure the position and momentum ( that is the combination of mass and velocity ) of a particle with absolute precision. The mere act of measurement will alter the values that are being measured and the failure of the measurement process is not a matter of the accuracy of the instrument ( which can always improve with time ) but a fundamental theoretical barrier. What this means is that you would never know the exact position of a piece of matter.

But that is true for sub-microscopic fundamental particles .. Not at all true for big things like cars and dogs.

That is not quite correct. It is true as well for all large particles but, and you are right here, the degree of error is far less in the case of large objects and so it has no practical implications, but the philosophy that underlies this theory is very important.

Why ?

Because it undermines our belief, shakes our confidence, in the inevitability of the physical observation process. This is like a crack in the wall of invincibility .. and a crack that can be exploited further as we move along.

How ?

All large objects are a conglomeration of smaller objects and by the laws of Chaos Theory, a small change in the position and velocity of one of the components can lead to a large variation in the nature and disposition of the larger conglomerate.

I have heard this before .. a butterfly flapping its wings in China can cause a thunderstorm in Canada.

True and if we explore and expand this idea a little more, we can hypothesize that SINCE the nature and behavior of a large object does depend on the position and velocity of each of the millions of its components AND there a definite uncertainty about the these variables as per Uncertainty Principle AND this uncertainty can cascade through – as per the laws of Chaos Theory, HENCE we are left with the strange feeling that things may not be quite what they seem to be.

I have a counterpoint to this in the statistical approach adopted in the Theory of Brownian Motion. The macro properties of large body may not depend on the exact ( or inexact ) values of the micro particles …. a statistical approach and the Law of Large numbers can get us to a fairly satisfying understanding of the world.

I do not disagree with you – I am only asking you to keep an open mind and not slam the door shut. Just as you quote the Theory of Brownian Motion so do I quote Chaos Theory and the answer could be a combination of both. For example, the Many Worlds Interpretation[1] (MWI) in quantum mechanics assumes that many alternate realities exist .. and we are aware of only one. In fact the existence of other worlds may be the only way to eliminate randomness and action at a distance from quantum theory and hence from physics itself.

But is it true ? Can it be proved as rigorously as any other theory of physics like Relativity ?

The concept of Proof is another intriguing aspect of this analysis that I will come to later. For the moment let me state, in brief, that as per Gödel’s Theorem of Incompleteness, provability is a weaker notion than truth and there can exist statements that are true but not provable. So instead of Proofs let me talk of opinions.

So what is the opinion of the scientific community in this regard.

In 1995, David Raub conducted an opinion poll among 72 leading physicists and the results were reported in the French periodical Sciences et Avenir in January 1998 and in this poll 58% believed that MWI is true, another 13% said that it was possible but not confirmed, 18% believed that MWI is wrong and the rest did not have an opinion.[2]

But that is still an opinion .. or perhaps should I say a belief.

Agreed but it is a belief held by some very learned people who were, unlike Galileo or Copernicus, under NO compulsion to subscribe to this belief. So there could be more than an iota of truth lying out there … just outside the pale of plausibility !

So all that you are saying is that there is possibility, but no proof as such of the existence of other alternate realities. How does that fit in with your second idea of 3D computer displays and nerve implants ?

To understand that let us think about The Matrix. Have you heard about it ?

Of course I have. It is a science fiction movie featuring Keanu Reeves ("Neo"), Carrie-Anne Moss ("Trinity") and Laurence Fishburne ("Morpheus") released by Warner Brothers in 1999. It explores the complex relationship between physical human beings and their perception of reality as controlled by a gigantic computer programme - "The Matrix". The movie has most of the Hollywood elements of high drama, action, violence and a cameo love affair. But what is most intriguing -- and most probably overlooked -- is its striking similarity with the philosophy of Vedanta. There is an uncanny echo of Sankara's treatment of the Atman, the Self, and Maya -- the veil that shields the Atman.

How is that ?

Let me explain a little about …

The Movie

The year is 2199 and computers with artificial intelligence have taken over the world. Human beings are born (or "cultivated") in captivity and at birth are connected to a life support system that feeds then intravenously till death. The bio-chemical activity in their bodies is used as a source of electric power to support the computers -- but that is not relevant in this case. What is important is that each person's brain is connected to the central computer. Complex programs -- the Matrix -- running on this computer feed a continuous stream of stimuli to the brain and this causes the individual to perceive a full range emotions associated with growing up, moving around --including flying through space, working, growing old and finally dying. The Matrix programme is smart enough to simulate a whole range of physical locations like parks, gardens, restaurants, train stations that people can visit -- or perceive to visit -- and interact with just as if they were physically there. They also perceive images of other individuals -- some rooted in other physical captive bodies, while others could be pure creations of the computer simulation process. Interactions between two individuals are also simulated.

There is a small group "independent" humans who live outside the Matrix in place called Zion. They have their own computers through which they are able to "hack into" the Matrix programme. This allows them to "enter" and "exit" the Matrix through telephone lines. When the enter the Matrix, their physical bodies remain at Zion, connected to the Zion computers, just as the bodies of the captive humans remain in their incubators. The crucial difference between the independents and the captives is that the former can actually "exit" from the Matrix and detach themselves from the Zion computers. Then they can live and perceive Reality.

Within this complex environment, the movie weaves a fantasy of heroism and love. Morpheus is the leader of the independent people and he has located and identified Neo -- currently a captive -- as the one who will destroy the Matrix and free mankind from this slavery to computers. Neo's arrival has been foretold by the Oracle. Morpheus and his band of independent humans, enter the Matrix, contact Neo and convince him of his importance. Then they detach his body from the Matrix computer, remove his body from the incubators and take it to Zion. Here they rejuvenate and repair his degenerated body. Now Neo, like the other independent humans can connect to the Zion computers and enter and exit from the Matrix at will. Would he succeed in his mission ? Since the actual outcome of the adventure is not relevant to this analysis, I will not reveal the ending for those who wish to see the film.

But if you compare with Vedanta, then what are …

The Similarities

The philosophy of Vedanta has already been discussed and there is no reason to repeat it here. The movie obviously does not have a one to one correspondence with Vedanta. Nevertheless there are certain similarities. Consider the following passage[3] where Morpheus introduces Neo to the Matrix :

Morpheus : I know..._exactly_ what you mean. Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know, you can't explain. But you feel it. You've felt it your entire life. That there's something _wrong_ with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's a splinter in you're mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you _know_ what I'm talking about?

Neo : The Matrix

Morpheus : Do you want to know...._what_ _it_ is....?

Neo nods

Morpheus : The Matrix is everywhere. It's all around us, even in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to work, when you pay your taxes. The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes, to blind you from the truth.

Neo : What truth?

Morpheus : That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison...for your mind....Unfortunately, no one can be..._told_ what the Matrix have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix computer programme is analogous to the Maya of Vedanta, the illusion that is perceived by the senses as the physical world. Morpheus "detaches" Neo's body from the Matrix computer (and the associated computer programme) and brings him to actual physical "reality" and this is what Neo looks and feels :

The metal harness opens and drops the half-conscious Neo onto the floor. Human hands and arms help him up as he finds himself looking straight at Morpheus, Trinity and Apoc, along with others he doesn't recognize. Morpheus smiles, and speaks quietly to Neo.

Morpheus : Welcome to the real world....

Neo passes out. As he is unconscious, Morpheus and Trinity talk in hushed voices

Morpheus : ...We've done it, Trinity...we've found him.
Trinity : I hope you're right...
Morpheus : I don't _have_ to hope. I know it.

Neo wakes up later on, and looks at Trinity and Morpheus, who are standing watching him.

Neo : ....Am I dead?
Morpheus : Far from it...

Neo passes out again. Later on, he wakes up. He sees his body pierced with dozens of acupuncture-like needles wired to a strange device.

Dozer: He still needs a lot of work.
Neo : What are you doing?
Morpheus : Your muscles have atrophied, we're rebuilding them.
Neo : Why do my eyes hurt?

Neo blinks

Morpheus : You've never used them before.

Neo looks confused

Confronted with this reality, Neo feels helpless, and wants to go back to the illusory comfort of the Maya / Matrix. Morpheus allows him to do so

Morpheus : You wanted to know...what the Matrix is, Neo?

Neo nods unsteadily Morpheus nods to Trinity

Morpheus : Trinity...

Trinity approaches Neo, and helps him into an armchair, strapping in his feet, and leaning his head back against the head rest. Morpheus looks at Neo

Morpheus : Try to relax...this will feel....a little _weird_.

As Morpheus guides a coaxial line into the jack at the back of his neck, Neo screams and makes a few other disturbing noises. When he opens his eyes, he is standing in a totally white place. His hair is back, and he is wearing different clothes. As Neo spins around a bit, trying to see what's going on, Morpheus appears in front of him.

Morpheus : This is the construct. It is our loading program. We can load anything from clothing, to equipment, weapons, training simulations, anything we need.

Neo is having a hard time getting a grasp of this.

Neo : Right now....we're inside a computer program?
Morpheus : Is it really so hard to believe? Your clothes are different. The plugs in your arms and head are gone. Your hair has changed.

Neo puts a hand to his head and touches his hair

Morpheus : Your appearance now is what we call residual self image. It is the mental projection...of your digital self.

Two chairs appear in front of them, and Neo reaches out to touch one. He runs his hand along it's back.

Neo : This....this isn't real?

Morpheus looks at him

Morpheus : What _is_ real? How do you _define_ real? If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

A television appears in front of the two chairs, as Neo sits down in the chair beside Morpheus. Morpheus picks up the television control and turns it on.

Morpheus : _This_ is the world that you know. The world as it was at the end of the twentieth century. It exists now only as part of a neural-interactive simulation, that _we_ call the Matrix.

There are some other interesting similarities between Maya and the Matrix programme. In explaining Maya, Sankara very often refers to the example of the rope and the snake. As long as one mistakes a rope for a snake, he is frightened and reacts to the rope as if it were a real snake. When he realizes that what he sees is only a rope he laughs. Similarly, as long as one is engrossed in the ignorance of relative consciousness, the world is indeed quite "real". But when true knowledge dawns, one becomes aware that the world was a fake.

Perceiving the "real" world as a "fake" needs deep insight and skeptics have often wondered that if the snake was a fake rope, how is it possible for it to actually kill someone. Sankara argues that the vivid imagination creates the presence of the snake in a rope and this imagination is so strong that a person can die from an imaginary snakebite. Thus, wrongly perceived situations may result in physical or psychological reactions.

There is a very similar situation that happens in the movie. Neo has entered the Maya / Matrix and makes his first attempt to fly through the air.

Summoning every ounce of strength in his legs, Neo launches himself into the air in a single maniacal shriek - But comes up drastically short. His eyes widen as he plummets. Stories fly by, the ground rushing up at him, but as he hits - The ground gives way, stretching like a trapeze net. He bounces and flips, slowly coming to a rest, flat on his back. He laughs, a bit unsure, wiping the wind-blown tears from his face. Morpheus exits the building and helps him to his feet. Inside the Nebuchadnezzar, the crew are feeling kind of let down by Neo.

Mouse : What...what does this mean?
Switch : It doesn't _mean_ anything...
Cypher : Everybody falls the first time. Right, Trin?

But Trinity has left. Neo's eyes open as Tank eases the plug out. He tries to move and groans, cradling his ribs. While Tank helps Morpheus, Neo spits blood into his hand.

Neo : I thought it wasn't real.
Morpheus : Your mind makes it real...
Neo : If you're killed in the die here?
Morpheus : The body cannot live without the mind.

Thus we see that Maya equates approximately to the Matrix computer programme. With a little more imagination, it may be possible to map the Atman and the Brahman as well. However since the movie was perhaps never made with vedanta in mind, such equations may seem to be a bit far fetched at the moment.

So it is possible to conceive of a scenario – however improbable that may be at the moment – in which a human brain is fed with stimuli that makes it believe that it inhabits a world that is different from where it really exists.

But that was a piece of science fiction.

No doubt it was a piece of science fiction and I am not claiming that the Maya of Vedanta is piece of software. All that I am trying to establish is that it technically possible to have something like this … I am trying to establish a rough model or analogy from the world of cyborgs and neural implants.

What are neural implants ?

That is a long story[4] that begins with Professor Warwick, but to cut a long story short, implants are devices that are implanted in a human body and serve as a gateway for electrical signals to be transmitted directly to the human nervous system without the normal intermediation of the sensory organs.

Can you explain that in greater detail ?

Yes, the idea is very simple. Suppose you want to open a door. This means that from somewhere in your brain, there must emanate an electrochemical signal that will cause your hand to rise and move in a manner that causes the door to open. But suppose you could sense the presence of the signal in your brain – or nervous system – and cause it to be transmitted out of your body – through this implant – and use this signal as an input to a electro-mechanical device that opens the door.

This sounds like thought control, like magic … is this possible.

Theoretically it is very much possible because the process does not violate any laws of physics but practically there are hurdles in making devices that are reliable enough to pick up the faint signals and process them correctly.

What is the difficulty ?

Well the brain sends out millions of signals and the implanted electrodes will sense all of them. The trick lies in isolating the one correct signal from the ‘noise’ and the acting on it. There is a lot of pattern recognition and related software techniques involved … but all said and done it is a tractable problem, a solvable problem and it has been solved for certain restricted cases. In fact the BBC has reported[5] that this technology is already being used to help paralyzed people to control their wheelchairs.

That was a neat introduction to nerve implants but how does it link to 3D computer displays ?

Implant technology has moved significantly forward from where Kevin Warwick was and one of the most innovative use of this technology is in the area of bionic eyes.

What are bionic eyes ?

These are devices that will let the blind see

Scientists have designed a bionic eye to allow blind people to see again. It comprises a computer chip that sits in the back of the individual's eye, linked up to a mini video camera built into glasses that they wear. [6]

Images captured by the camera are beamed to the chip, which translates them into impulses that the brain can interpret.

The work was discussed at a Royal National Institute of the Blind talk and Professor Gislin Dagnelie, of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, unveiled details at a recent conference in London, in early 2007 where he claimed that human trials will begin shortly.

Although the images produced by the artificial eye were far from perfect, they could be clear enough to allow someone who is otherwise blind to recognise faces and this breakthrough likely to benefit patients with the most common cause of blindness, macular degeneration, which affects 500,000 people in the UK.

This occurs when there is damage to the macula, which is in the central part of the retina where light is focused and changed into nerve signals in the middle of the brain.

The implant bypasses the diseased cells in the retina and stimulates the remaining viable cells.

Professor Dagnelie said: "The retinal implant contains tiny electrodes. If you stimulate a single electrode, the person will see a single dot of light." They have already tested implants containing a handful of electrodes, but the end device will contain 50-100 to give a better overall picture. "We are hoping this will be enough for the person to be able to make their way through a building, find a door or window and avoid obstacles for example.

"To us, the images look very basic but for someone who was previously blind they are a massive step forward."

How is that relevant to our case ?

One step at a time. Let us think of what is suggested in The Matrix … we have a series of electrical stimuli that are fed into the brain and the brain is not aware that these are NOT ‘real’ stimuli from physical objects but artificially generated electrical signals that create the same effect !

You mean the mind cannot distinguish between a sensory stimulus generated from a physical artifact from a sensory stimulus generated from a computer program.

Right, now consider the bionic eye. What does it do ? Its camera picks the sensory signal – in this case light – from the environment converts it into a electrical signal and sends it to the bionic eye and then through it to the brain. What if we replace the camera with an artificial signal generator ? The bionic eye will still pick up the signal – but would not know that it is not coming from the camera – and will send it to the brain and the brain would be let to believe that the signal came from the camera – and hence from the physical environment – but in reality that would not be the case.

So instead of ‘seeing’ or sensing what is actually in front of the eye, the brain will ‘see’ something completely different … and in fact will see just what it is shown in terms of electrical signals whose origin could be a computer program.

Correct, in effect, we have replaced the physical world with an illusory, artificial world … which is exactly what the Matrix was all about.

But what if we disengage the artificial signal generator then the person will know that we were trying to fool him or her.

Of course but if for days, a person gets to receive ONLY the stimuli from an artificial signal generator there would come a time when he would be convinced that these artificial signals are in fact the ‘real’ signals from the ‘real’ world … I know that I am stretching your imagination but theoretically and conceptually speaking you can extend this analogy.

But what about the other sensory perceptions, sounds ? touch ? taste ?

Again .. the bionic eye is just the starting point .. there is no difficulty in extending the same to the other sensory organs … you would need more research, more technology but no theoretical bar on using the same approach to sound and touch and taste.

OK .. but I have one more concern. When I ‘see’ the ‘real’ world it is – what should I say – very ‘realistic’ with a great deal of detail in terms of colours, resolution and 3D ‘depth’ – of the kind that we get with stereographic vision. But from what you just said, the images that you see with a bionic eye, even when they are generated by ‘real’ life objects and transformed through the camera – they are kind of crude and fuzzy. Surely the difference between the quality of the two kinds of images is too large.

I will answer your question in two parts. First the current combination of camera and image processing technology is in its infancy. With advances here, the image of a ‘real’ object as seen through the camera and bionic eye will be as good as the image seen the ‘natural’ eye – if not better if we use image enhancing techniques. But I will go a step further and introduce the concept of 3D displays.

What is that ?

Consider a normal computer screen. There is some data that is stored in digital files – and this could be MS-Word document or an EXCEL spreadsheet or it could be an image stored in a JPEG format. What happens on the screen ? The computer converts this data and represents it on the screen as points of light – or renders it in an optical format. This light moves to the ‘natural’ eye and is taken inside the brain so that we can read the document or see the picture. Now what happens if we eliminate the rendering process ?

What ?

The computer picks up the same data and instead of rendering it as points of light on the screen send the data directly to the image processing unit of the bionic eye …

Ah ha … and the brain ‘sees’ the same document or image as if it was first rendered on the screen and then processed by the ‘natural’ eye.

Exactly … we have a new User Interface for the computer that eliminates the computer screen – or console or terminal, call it whatever you will – and yet communicates with the brain.

Just like the Matrix !

And no more science fiction … we are moving into the domain of science fact.

And this could extend to movies in MGEG or WMV format .. you can see the movie in your ‘minds’ eye directly from the disk or from a streaming video server.

You are right but I am not happy with that … I would like to push further into the domain of 3D technology.

Now what is that ?

When you see movies you basically see a 2D representation of 3D object or location.

But there are ways of creating and viewing 3D movies as well – using coloured spectacles and other technology.

That is very primitive technology. Today we have the ability to create computer displays that are very realistic in their representation of three dimensions. It is as if we craft a real solid three dimensional image out of the interplay of various beams of coloured light.

Are you referring to holograms ? Laser holograms ?

In a generic sense, yes .. but as I have said, we have some very advanced technology that is available today.

I remember that in the movie Star Wars, there was an image of the Princess Leia that ‘materialised’ in front of a group of people and it was animated to the point of asking for help – help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you are my only hope …

That was science fiction but today, it is really possible to do the same. A 3D display[7] is any display device capable of conveying three-dimensional images to the viewer. There are three types of 3D displays: stereoscopic 3D displays, holographic 3D displays, and multiplanar. Stereoscopic displays use various methods to convey a separate image to each eye, allowing the perception of depth. Holographic displays create a light field which is identical to that which emanated from the original scene, giving a perfect three-dimensional image, although usually only at the particular wavelengths of the lasers used to record the image. 3D displays may use voxels instead of pixels.

Can you give an example ?

OK, Look at this picture that shows a Philips' lenticular lens 3-D display[8] that requires no special glasses and can show 3-D scenes simultaneously to several viewers.

Is this the only technology available for this purpose ?

Not really, there are many companies that are in a position to offer the same technology. For example this IRIS3D display delivers a 4-MegaPixel combined image resolution image in a workstation that allows you to visualize your images and data in true 3D - all without the need for encumbering 3D glasses, HMDs or expensive immersive multi-user environments. It makes visualisation intuitive! It also allows you to work in 2D for when you've just got to write that report, or when playing Quake in 3D has left you, quite literally, quaking!

So now we can deliver 3D images directly to the brain using the nerve implants – or the bionic eyes ?

Yes these are two of the three pieces of our artificial Maya.

Two ? three ? what are we talking about.

Let me circle back to what I was trying to do. I was trying to establish that the statement which claims that “the world around us is not real .. it is only an illusion” cannot be ruled out outright. I am trying to establish that under certain situations, we can create an environment where the human mind cannot distinguish between what is real and what is illusory.

And how have you established that ?

Not yet, but I have first established that it is possible to generate electrical signals and send them into the brain in a manner that the brain may not be able to distinguish between ‘real’ optical signals generated from the environment and ‘illusory’ non-optical, electrical signals generated through a computer.

That was part one, what next ?

Second, I have established that it is possible to generate electrical signals that simulate 3D images very realistically and so we remove one more barrier between the real and the illusory.

You had said that there was a third piece of the puzzle ?

Yes that comes from the world of Massively Multi-user Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) in general and the widely popular game or rather platform called Second Life in particular.

What is an MMORPG and why do we need it ?

We have established that we can generate 3D images and send them directly to the brain … but what kind of images shall we generate and send ? Obviously these need to be images that we see in the world around us … images of people, other people who are around us, together with images of the environment – roads, trees, houses, cars ..

And where do we get this ?

It is readily available in an MMORPG[9] which is a genre of online computer role-playing games (RPGs) in which a large number of players interact with one another in a virtual world. In these games, players assume the role of a fictional character (most commonly in a fantasy setting) and take control over many of that character's actions. MMORPGs are distinguished from single-player or small multi-player RPGs by the number of players, and by the game's persistent world, usually hosted by the game's publisher, which continues to exist and evolve while the player is away from the game.

MMORPGs are very popular throughout the world, with combined global memberships in subscription and non-subscription games exceeding 15 million as of 2006. Overall, revenues for MMORPGs exceeded half a billion dollars in 2005 and are expected to reach over a billion dollars by 2009.

How exactly does all this relate to the Maya of Vedanta ?

OK, let me explain in greater detail with reference to a very specific MMORPG called Second Life though in fact SecondLife is actually more than a game. Wikipedia describes[10]

“Second Life as an Internet-based virtual world which came to international attention via mainstream news media in late 2006 and early 2007. Developed by Linden Lab, a downloadable client program enables users to interact with each other through notional avatars, providing an advanced level of a social network service combined with general aspects of a metaverse”.

According to Wired Magazine[11]

“The vision of former RealNetworks CTO Philip Rosedale, Second Life emerged from beta just three years ago. Rosedale was convinced that the increasing adoption of broadband and powerful processors made it possible to create a 3D virtual world similar to the metaverse Neal Stephenson described in his sci-fi novel Snow Crash. Rosedale and his team at Linden Lab govern Second Life and rent property to the steady stream of fresh immigrants, but beyond establishing a few basic protocols, they pretty much stay out of the way. Almost everything you'll see has been built by the locals, from the swaying palm trees at the Welcome Area to the pole-dancer's dress at the XXX Playground.”

Second Life is a fairly standard, client-server application that runs on the Internet but the analogies which it offers are truly staggering. You use the SL client software, running on your computer, to “enter” the virtual world that resides on the server machines, with a userid and password. Immediately an avatar – a graphical representation of the user – appears in the virtual world and become visible to other avatars, who are connected to and representations of other users who have similarly entered the world from their computers.

Avatars interact with each other in a virtual landscape populated by persistent objects like houses, trees, lakes, cars, shops, merchants, animals, aircraft – you name it, it is there. Each of these objects has been created by other users through their own avatars inside Second Life. This an eerie, but enjoyable world, filled with almost all ingredients of real life – there is a thriving economy, based on a convertible currency, almost as large as the GDP of a small country, there are relationships between avatars, there is law and politics and inevitably crime – committed by avatars and appropriate punishment. A key ingredient of Second Life is the concept of property rights. What you build is what you own and what you own, is what you can sell or rent !! And this is why Second Life is no more a game but an all new world to explore and profit from where the average daily transactions is a shade less than USD 1 million every day !

If you are immersed in this world – an at the time of writing, there are more than 3 million users of whom nearly 15-20,000 are concurrently in-world – it occasionally becomes impossible to determine the borders of what is real and what is virtual. Is this Maya ? Obviously not but if you consider the following … the analogy could be very compelling indeed.

Have you actually been there ? Or are you simply talking about it ?

Well at least in this case, not only do I know the path to Second Life, I have actually walked along that path. I have my own personal property in SL where I have built the Mahamaya Kali temple and it all began with a simple desire, to know who was visiting this temple. The first step was very simple – a phantom, nearly-invisible, trip-wire around the teleport point that sent out an email whenever someone passed through it and this helped identify visitors quite effectively. But then I got ambitious and decided to see if I could create an in-world camera that would snap a picture of the individual instead of just sending the email. Unfortunately this proved to be impossible .. and here is why.

Objects in SL are represented as pieces of raw digital data and it is the SL client software that assembles this data and gives it a visual representation. So to create an in-world camera, one would have to have a full fledged SL client, that runs recursively within the SL client itself … and this is infinitely more difficult than writing code to do a host of normal things like driving a vehicle or creating a flying bird.

This leads us to the larger philosophical question .. does the existence of reality depend on the existence of a mechanism, a consciousness, to perceive the reality ?

This is where we can invoke the analogy and state that the SL client is the equivalent of Maya ( or illusion) that assembles the view or perception. Without this Maya ( or the SL client) there is no Reality or at least the no perception of Reality. Is it that the act of seeing or perceiving is the cause for the existence of the object of perception ? Is it that I perceive, therefore the world exists.[12]

Of course it may be argued that even if the SL client was not around to perceive the artifact in SL, the artifact would still exist in the SL asset server database. But the representation of the asset in the server is a series of “real” digital bits in a database which, however, is far removed from the “virtual” tables, chairs, houses, trees and other “solid” objects that are perceived when they are viewed through the SL client.

So in Real Life, the Reality could be in a form that is significantly different from the way we see it ... and we see it the way we do because of a Viewer that is placed between that Reality and us .. and that is what the Advaitin would say is Maya. When this Maya is removed, what remains is something quite different.

In Second Life, if we equate the SL client to Maya and if the Maya is removed, then there are no artifacts, only a stream of digital bits. In Real Life the big challenge is to know the equivalent of the digital bits. That question may not be answered here but the fact remains that Second Life client is the closest analogy that we have of Maya that the Advaitin talks about.

And more importantly, the thought that the world is an illusion may not be so difficult to accept any more. For a humorous take-off on this idea, you can see the movie Are You Real ?[13]

So would you say that we have a live example of Maya – the Illusion of Vedanta ?

Not yet. All that we have are three very interesting pieces of technology, namely
* MMORPG – that allows multiple individuals to interact with each other and with a very realistic environment that does not really exist but that seems very real
* a 3D display technology that makes this realistic environment even more realistic by replacing the flat 2D computer display with a something more dramatic and
* Finally the bionic eye technology that can eliminate the need for the computer display and beam the signals created from the first two technologies directly into the brain so that the brain cannot distinguish whether it in a virtual MMORPG world or in the real physical world.[14]

But that means that you have blurred the borders between the real and the virtual ? Why are you not saying that this is a demonstration of the Maya of Vedanta ?

Thank you for your faith in me, but I do not deserve it as yet. All that I have demonstrated is that it is possible to create an environment that seems to replicate Maya but unfortunately this is not Maya as yet.

Why ? What is missing ? …

You need to understand that computer technology has significant limitations when you use it to model the mental side of human beings.

[1] For an overview of MWI see

[2] As quoted in The Everett FAQ at

[3] These dialogues are taken from a version of the script assembled by Shelly Poole ( and available on the internet

[4] See for a more detailed story on Kevin Warwick in Wired magazine.


[6] This section adapted from a report in the BBC website A Google search with Bionic Eyes will reveal more information.






[12] In a recent paper published in Nature (Nature 446 871) and reported in Physics Web ( ) physicists from Austria claim to have performed an experiment that rules out a broad class of hidden-variables theories that focus on realism -- giving the uneasy consequence that reality does not exist when we are not observing it.


[14] In fact technology is moving so fast in this direction that as of March 07, 2007 we have an announcement at that Emotiv Systems have introduced a new helmet that will allow players to control the game with thoughts and emotions. The product is expected to be in the market in 2008.