Advaita : Some Basic Explanations - 6

hbdave hbd at DDIT.ERNET.IN
Tue Feb 26 00:52:41 CST 2002

Dear List Memebrs,
Here is posting no. 6.
Best to all.
-- Himanshu
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Advaita : Some Basic Explanations - 6 (Brain)
                                                -- Himanshu

In my past potings I have used the word "brain" to denote
the activity that takes place in the physical brain of a
person. We are not concerned very much about the raw or
anatomical brain (though everything takes place there), but
more with the *logical*, i.e., working aspect, the actions
of its various components and their results. In other words,
when we say "brain", what is meant (in these postings) is the
functional brain, what the brain is doing.

Basically, brain is an information processor. All that we think,
contemplate, feel, ... , are in the brain. This information
processing can be taken to be carried out in stages or layers,
but all these things go on in the physical brain.

This, I feel requires some detailing. Though these details
do not traditionally fall under Vedanta, its understanding
will make us better appreciate the total picture.
If you are a "pure" Advaitin you may ignore this posting :-)

So here we go.

Most of these details are given in a paper
"A New Approach to Interpretation of Vedas", By H.B. Dave, a
paper presented at 39th All India Oriental Conference, October 1998,

and a forthcoming book
"The Final Frontier - Letters to Gargi", By H.B. Dave, being

but a summary is given here.

We should know something about how the human brain works and the concept of
Vaak, the Languages of the Brain.

Working of the Human Brain :
The human brain is possibly the most complex system that man ever
encountered. Many times attempts are made to compare it with the modern
digital computer, but it is an unfair comparision, the brain will win
hands down.

The brain consists of a large number (billions) of information processing
cells, called *neurons*. These neurons are intricately interconnected with
one another. They process information by sending and receiving signals
or "messages" which are in electro-chemical form.

The integrated effects of the electrical activity of the neurons can be
monitored externally on the scalp by a device known as
Electro-Encephalo-Graph (EEG), which gives a very crude and approximate
representation what is going on inside. In modern times, better means of
monitoring, like Magnetic-Resonance Imaging (MRI) can give more accurate
picture of the activity of the brain. Unfortunately this is a very costly
machine to use.

In India, since ancient times, physiological monitoring of the brain
processes are developed, which do not require any machines, but depend upon
the reaction and perceptions of the person himself. I call these Indicators,
{\skt pratika} or {\skt ketava.h} (RigVeda).

The activity of the brain can be described in terms of its logical
fuctioning (as opposed to the physical regions.) In RigVeda, these functions
are given names like {\skt b.rhaspati}, {\skt yama.h}, {\skt indra.h}, or
{\skt brahmaa}, {\skt udgaat.r}, {\skt adhvaryu}, {\skt hot.r}, etc.

States of Consciousness :
We have already seen that generally three states of consciousness are
considered in our scriptures --
awake ({\skt jaagrata}), dreaming ({\skt svapna}), and  deep sleep
({\skt su.supti}).

An underlaying, common pure consciousness, called the Fourth
({\skt turiiya}) is also envisaged,
See Mandukya Upanishad.
but it is not considered a state of consciousness, but rather a sub-stratum
common to all the changing states through which a person goes through.

A fourth state, which modern science puts under the category of "altered
state of consciousness", is achieved during a meditation practice. This is,
roughly, a state of perfect relaxation of body and mind, but the person is
wide awake (in fact, it is known to be a super-waking state). Due to the
reasons which will be clear shortly, we shall call this state the Alpha
state. In Sanskrit it is generally called {\skt dhyaanaavasthaa}, the state
of meditation.

This fourth state is nearest to Turiya and that is its importance.

The states of consciousness enumerated above have direct physiological
co-relates, the most important of which is the EEG pattern observed. This is
generally expressed in terms of the energy contents in different parts of
the frequency spectrum of the EEG signal for a person. EEG contains
frequencies from 0 to 30 Hz. Neuroscientists name the EEG frequency
components as follows :

        [0 to 3 Hz :]   Delta waves or  delta-rhythm;
        [3 to 8 Hz :]   Theta waves or  theta-rhythm;
        [8 to 13 Hz :]  Alpha waves or  alpha-rhythm;
        [13 to 30 Hz :] Beta waves or   beta-rhythm.

        ^ energy content
        |<-delta, theta-><alpha><------ beta ------------>
        0       5       10      15      20      25      30 Hz
                        EEG Frequency

Roughly speaking, Theta and Delta waves are predominent in deep sleep, Beta
waves are predominent when a person is doing some mental work (usually
during the waking state) and Alpha waves are predominent when a person is
awake but relaxed. The relationship between the EEG frequency contents and
states of consciousness can be summarized as :

        State           Beta            Theta/Delta     Alpha
        awake           high            v. low          v. low
        dreaming        medium          high            v. low
        deep sleep      v. low          high            v. low
        meditation      v.low           v. low          v. high

The table shows why we name the state during meditation as the Alpha
(note the capital A) state.

Various literature of ancient India, like Tantra, Yoga, Upanishads, RigVeda
and other Vedas,  dealing with these phenomena have used their own set of
nomenclature, but equivalence between them exists.

For example, the Alpha state (of highest concern) is called "Indra drinking
Soma" in RigVeda, "Kundalini entering Sushumna" in Tantra and Yoga,
"Shivayuvati having union with Shiva" in Tantra, Upanishads call it "Ananda",
"Turiya", etc.

RigVeda especially uses ordinary, day to day words, like cow, milk, horse,
hairs, etc. to denote specific concepts in this field.

In Yoga, three Nadis ({\skt naa.dii}), -- paths of movements of Kundalini
({\skt ku.n.dalinii}) the nerve energy -- are defined to be existing in the
Merudanda ({\skt meruda.n.da}) -- wrongly translated as the Spinal cord, it
really means nerve signals on frequency plane --  of a person :

[Ida {\skt i.daa}] -- supposed to be on the left side of the Merudanda;
the low frequency components of the EEG, Delta/Theta waves; associated
colours : black, brown, deep red;

[Pingala {\skt pi"ngalaa}] -- supposed to be on the right hand side of the
Merudanda; the high frequency components of EEG, Beta waves; associated
colours : yellow, orange and bright red;

[Sushumna {\skt su.sum.naa}] -- supposed to be in the middle of the Merudanda;
the mid-frequeency components of EEG; Alpha waves; associated colours :
blue, green and violet;

        ^ energy content
        |<-delta, theta-><alpha><------ beta ------------>
        |<-- Ida -------><-Sus.><----- Pingala ---------->
        0       5       10      15      20      25      30 Hz
        |<--- Left -----><Middle><-------- Right -------->
                        EEG Frequency plane (Merudanda)

Merudanda means a {\skt da.nda) - a stick, measuring rod, by which you
measure Meru, i.e. the pyramid of awarers!
(Were not our Rishis scientists?)
(Refer to explanation of Kutastha in a previous posting and also, see
the table of Vaak below.)

Note well the close correspondence between the modern physiological view of
the states of consciousness and the description given by Yoga. The reader
may contemplate why Shiva is supposed to have blue body and Vishnu, who is
the maintainer of the World, has blue body but yellow cloths (
({\skt pitaambara}). Also, the Self ({\skt}) is said to be
residing in the right eye during waking state or the Heart ({\skt h.rdayam})
is said to be on the right side in the body. That  is Pingala, the

Languages of the brain - Vaak :

The activity of the brain can also be described at more abstract levels in
terms of Brain Languages, called Vaak {\skt vaak}.
(See for example, RigVeda Samhita I -164 - 45) :
        {\skt catvaari vaak parimitaa ... ...}

Five  levels of overall activity of the brain, or awareness, are visualized,
successively at more abstract level of thinking or information processing.

These levels of processing need to communicate with immediately lower and
higher levels and they do this via the brain languages. They set up a
hierarchical structure of centres of control ({\skt kartaa bhoktaa})
and methods of message passing ({\skt v.rtti}).

Generally four levels (or types) of Vaak are recognized, though at some
places in RigVeda seven levels are also mentioned. The four levels of Vak
are : Para ({\skt paraa}), Pashyanti ({\skt pa"syantii}), Madhyama
({\skt madhyamaa}) and Vaikhari ({\skt vaikharii}). The following table
gives some more details about these languages, taking an example case of
an idea being visualized and uttered as an English sentence.

Awareness level         Vaak            elements                example
{\skt aanandamaya}
                        {\skt paraa}    concept-seed            (cow-eat-grass)
{\skt vij~naanamaya}
                    {\skt pa"syantii}   visualized concept      cow-eat-grass
{\skt manomaya}
                  {\skt madhyamaa}      entity-relation         eat(cow, grass)} \\
{\skt praa.namaya}
                  {\skt vaikharii}      grammatic sentence      cow eats grass.
{\skt annamaya}
                  {\skt vaa.nii}        physical speech
external environment

(The language used to send/receive messages between awareness levels are
shown in between the rows in the above table.)

Note that these languages are operative both for upward going (i.e., from
external stimulii to the most abstract level) and downward going (i.e., from
an abstract concept seed to articulated speech or other action) information.
Also, the actual  "human" language like English or Hindi, etc. gets
introducced at {\skt vaikharii} level only, the higher brain languages are
independent of "human" languages.
The mantra from RigVeda quoted above directly says so, and also it is
supported by findings of modern cognitive science and linguistics.

Sanskrit, as used in Vedas, is special in this respect, it can communicate
at {\skt vaikharii madhyamaa} or {\skt pa"syantii} levels, by a special
process known as Vashat {\skt} (no English word available,
as Western science does not know about this process.)
I think Tamil should also have similar property, but I can not say
with force, I do not know Tamil at all (unfortunately). Both languages
are product of the same process of language generation, pre-Vedic.
May be some day, someone ... ...

Whatever we do, the brain and thus the Vak is always involved.

Doubt : are there separate regions in the physical brain for Anandamaya,
Manomaya, etc.?
Reply : No, at least from what is known till now about anatomical brain,
we can not do that. Whatever we do or think (upto Anandmaya) takes place
as a play of signals exchanged between neorons only. This play of signals
is extremely complex and in order to understand and discuss about them, we
use the words like Manomaya, Vijnanmaya, Para, Pashyanti, etc. These are
just models of actually what is going on in our brain.

Doubt : That is not clear.
Reply : It would be easier for me if you knew something about how a computer
works. Still, let us try.

You know how a government (say Govt. of India) works. A minister passes a
policy order, an officer actualizes it in form of an executive order and
passes it to concerned departments throughout the state. Each Head of Office
takes action based on this order, passes on to subordinates, etc.
Now consider the messages passing - all are through papers (no paperless
office yet!), whetever be level or purpose of the message.

Though we visualize our government as Cabinet of Ministers, IAS officers
(Secretaries), staff cader, etc. and messages as Policy Paper, Govt.
Resolution, Office Order, etc. that is just a model. Actual actors are
just persons and messages are papers.

Suppose a Man-from-Mars came to Earth and he does not know this overall
model. What he will see? Exchange of papers (signals) between people
(neurons). Of course, by watching them he can not understand what is really
going on, for that the model will help.

I hope this makes it clear.

Best wishes to all,
-- Himanshu.

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