Photographer Madhur Dhingra is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this photo essay. From the book/project ‘Entangled | Chapter #1 | Śūnyatā ( སྟོང་པ་ཉིད ) – The Ultimate Void ’. To see Madhur ’s body of work, click on any image.
These images are a part of a personal journey where I search answers to some fundamental questions about life, its meaning and purpose and then later my understanding about nature of ‘Reality’. This quest took me to every nook and corner of India meeting sadhus, monks, philosophers, scientists and charlatans alike.
I made visits to spiritually charged places like Zanskar, Ladakh, Rishikesh, Varanasi, Durga Puja (Kolkata), Purn Kumbh 1998 (Haridwar) & Kumbh 2019 (Praygraj-Allahabad ), Madurai, and others.
On Manikarnika (Varanasi) -The Burning Ghat I saw death in all its raw and naked starkness.
In Ladakh & Zanskar I would sit inside the 2000 year old monasteries trying to seep in the peace I found there.
Constant interaction with brilliant scholars made me understand that the concept of a ‘Creator God’ proposed by organized religions was a childish one. It had failed to fully comprehend that unconditioned, non-dual, eternal omnipresent force. God is not a glorified ‘personality’ sitting somewhere in the universe, directing lives of its people or attending to minute details of its day to day operations. We need to understand that the Universal Mind does not exist separately along the universe but in it and as it.
The universe was not arbitrarily created by any outside intervention but is self- born and is governed by the eternal Law Of Cause and Effect or Karma. The impressions of all objects in the universe lie dormant within the inner depths of the Universal Mind, until they become active by the working of Karma. They are then projected in our familiar space-time dimension which we know as the material world. The universe is not only self-actuating but also self-determining.
The perplexing questions of how the universe came into being and the conundrum of origin of life have always puzzled mankind. Civilizations from time immemorial have tried to answer these questions in their own peculiar ways. Ancient Mesopotamians believed that the earth was ruled by numerous gods, goddesses, devils and monsters. They were hundreds of gods who were responsible for everything that happened in their life. They had a god of rain, god of moon, god for justice, god for wind, to name a few. Egyptians too had built a fascination world of spirituality for themselves. They also worshipped many gods, and as many as 1500 gods are known by name. Their search for immortality led to the building of the pyramids, fabulous temples and tombs with the mysterious mummies buried inside them. Greeks too worshipped many gods like Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Apollo and so many others.
Science on one hand, is a systematic study of nature and behavior of the material and physical universe, based on observation, experiment and measurement, formulation of laws to describe those facts and to use them to make predictions. Any conflicting evidence must eventually lead to either modification or even abandonment of the law.
On the other hand, religion does not depend only on any observational and experimental evidence and by and large relies on revelations, faith and myths to explain the mysteries of the universe. It does not feel the need to modify its beliefs in the face of conflicting evidence. In religion, faith in its doctrines is paramount and unequivocal.
History stands witness to philosophers like Filippo Bruno being burnt at the stake for his cosmological theories of stars being small suns at a distance and for saying that the universe is infinite and hence could not have any celestial body at its center. The Church during that time believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. Nikolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilee and many others also suffered the oppression of the dominant Orthodox Church, but unrelenting science was in no mood to be cowed down. They kept shooting down all the superstitions and myths held by the church. The war was on!!!!!
The earliest known conflict between science and religion occurred in ancient Babylon. The priests then had believed that lunar eclipses were caused by agitated gods. They were considered evil and threatened the lives of their kings. By then the local astronomers had discovered an 18 year and 11.3 day (223 synodic month) interval between lunar eclipses. This suggested that the eclipses were a natural phenomenon. But this did not deter the irrational beliefs of the priests, they still regarded eclipses as a great danger for their kings. However, now knowing how to accurately predict of the next eclipse, adamant priests put on throne a temporary king during the period around the eclipse, in an effort to safe guard the real king. Interestingly the substitute king was later killed and the omen fulfilled.
Later on the most talked about conflict was between Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and the Roman Catholic Church, largely over the movements within the solar system. The Church interpreted the Bible as saying that the Earth was at the center of the universe and the sun, moon and other planets and stars revolved around the Earth. Galileo on the other hand had observed that the sun was at the center of our solar system and Earth other planets also revolved around the sun and the moon revolved around the Earth. Galileo was tried condemned as a heretic. He spent the rest of his life in house arrest. Pope John Paul II later admitted that errors had been made by the Church advisors in the case of Galileo Galilei. Interestingly he did not admit that the Church was wrong to convict Galileo on a charge of heresy.
A formal divide between religion and science took place during the seventeenth century when French mathematician Rene Des Cartes demarcated the scope of science to only what was material, by bifurcating the universe as matter (res extensa) and mind (res cogitans), limiting science to the study of the former. The science that evolved on the basis of this Cartesian bifurcation was confined to the study of material objects within the limits of human sensory perception. The study of God, soul, spirit and anything beyond the perception of the sense organs were in the domain of the Church.
The result of this unhealthy truce was a complete materialization of all scientific knowledge, its applications, approach and attitude. Science no longer oppressed and hounded now hit back in retaliation saying that anything that was beyond the grasp of the senses was merely a delusion.
Then we see Charles Darwin with his Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection. Evolution is a gradual process in which a living organism changes its shape into a different and usually a more complex form, adapting itself according to the conditions of its environment. Natural Selection is the survival of the fittest and removal of the unfit ones in due course of time.
No figure in modern history has received as much religious criticism and backlash as Charles Darwin. He is portrayed even worse than an atheist. His work has been attacked as a denial to the belief that the universe and all its diverse life forms are a creation of God. Ironically, at Cambridge University, he studied to become a minister. While studying for the ministry, Darwin undertook a field trip with Adam Sedgwick, one of the three principal founders of modern geology. This earned him good reputation as a naturalist. A year later he went as a resident naturalist on ‘HMS Beagle’, a scientific exploratory ship, which was going sailing around the world for 5 years.
During his service on ‘HMS Beagle’, Darwin finally decided to give up his aspirations of becoming a minister and opted for the life of a scientist-naturalist. He made judicious observations of birds, turtles and mammals, which gradually evolved into an idea of evolution of species by natural selection.
Darwin initially played a leading part in the parish work of the local church, but from around 1849 he would go for a walk on Sundays while his family attended church. Though reserved about his religious opinions, in 1879 he responded that he had never denied the existence of God, and said, “An Agnostic would be a more correct description of my state of mind.” He went on to say that “Science has nothing to do with Christ, except insofar as the habit of scientific research makes a man cautious in admitting evidence. For myself, I do not believe that there ever has been any revelation. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities”.
The followers of Darwin further went on to say that there is no God or any intelligent force anywhere in the universe. All life forms are random mutations, carriers of DNA’s perpetual quest to replicate.
Christianity believes that God created all the animals, reptiles, birds and everything else that exists today, through His supernatural powers. Any organism created by God can’t produce a new form all by itself and only God has the power to do this. Many Christians believe that The Book of Genesis which deals with Origins had actual information on how the world came up into being. The Book Of Genesis starts with the statement “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”, and goes on to describe how in six days God created the plants, the animals, the sun, the moon, and the stars. Orthodox Biblical interpretation infers that the world was created about 6000 years ago. Christian beliefs are usually based on a strict interpretation of the Bible and some of their other holy texts. Archbishop James Ussher from Ireland actually calculated the ages of the patriarchs and worked out to his self-satisfaction that the world was created in the year 4004 BC on 22nd October Saturday at 6 PM. Interestingly, any Biblical scholar will vouch that the Book of Genesis was never meant to describe the actual origin of Creation.
Scientists vehemently say the young earth theory is completely wrong, with so much of geological, fossil, astronomical and other data against it. Scientists are almost unanimous in saying that the Earth is 4 billion years old.
Most religions of the world have primitive concepts of God. Mankind has been made to believe that God is a Being, distinct in relation to his own self, to whom he is supposed to worship, please, seek pardon or obtain awards from. He is made into some superhuman being with a big long white beard, sitting somewhere in the universe judging people and ordering punishments and rewards.
But this is not what God is. The whole concept of such a God is preposterous. Religion has deliberately played upon these insecurities and served its own vested interests.
Most religions have done tremendous harm by spreading hatred and violence through their manipulative, ignorant and dogmatic doctrines. History all through has been a silent spectator to unimaginable acts of barbarity resulting from hatred spread by the protectors of these religions. Modern man however, is more open minded and looks with disdain at certain portions of these doctrines and refuses to accept them at their face value. They seem irrational and childish to his logical mind.
Simultaneously, I also emphatically state that science is definitely not the only irrefutable way of knowing and understanding reality but rather just another way of knowing that differs from other ways, because of its dependence on measurable means. Experience however, keeps reminding us that such a methodology does not always lead us to correct answers. The above mentioned method sometimes act as a constraint on science and stand in the way of achieving the objective of understanding the true nature of reality. Reality may not just be confined to matter or to the known dimensions of time and space. Such phenomena however find its place outside the parameters of the current scientific paradigm.
Orthodox science has also painted a very bleak picture for humanity. It keeps telling us that we are some sort of a genetic mistake, that we have genes that use us to move on to the next generation and that we randomly mutate. It also keeps telling us that our existence is just a matter of chance and that we are alone a very lonely and meaningless cosmos.
Such a viewpoint of being disconnected with the universe that we all live in is the most disastrous thing that science has ever taught us.
We are now coming to realize painfully that this conception is completely wrong. We are not isolated beings but on the contrary, the whole universe is interconnected. The idea of separateness is completely an erroneous one, and that everything in the universe is ‘Entangled’.
Ironically both science and religion, due to their dogmatic approach, ignorance and selfish interests have led mankind astray in its understanding the true nature of Reality. Pitching one against the other has mainly been done by people of vested interests on both the sides. A sincere seeker however, takes no time in seeing through this sinister design.
My interest in the Indian saint Shakyamuni or Gautama Siddartha (563 or 566 B.C.E) was generated during my sailing days. Born a prince but profoundly troubled by human suffering. Longing for answers he became a wandering yogi, seeking the truth for the sake of all sentient beings. He became a disciple of two hermits, Arada Kalama and Rudraka Ramaputra. He was a fast learner but was still unable to extract answers that had always been troubling his restless mind vis-à-vis the cause of human suffering. Disappointed he left them and started walking the path alone. He wandered in the forest for 6 years living a harsh ascetic life, soon to realize that this again was not the right way. Feeble and wary he sat down on determined meditation to find his answers. Varied thoughts entered his mind, carefully and patiently he examined them one by one and rejected them all. Then one day as the morning star appeared in the eastern sky, his struggle was finally over, his mind became clear and he could foresee the causes and the path to eradication of human suffering. This was December the 8th, when the Prince became Buddha.
Personally my curiosity lay more in the chain of events that had finally lead to his enlightenment and the sources which tell us more about those events. I start digging in for more information but found no accurate archeological evidence about the existence of Siddhartha, apart from the fact that a couple hundred years after his death, a particular site in India had been continually revered as his birthplace. The historical accuracy of Buddhist texts regarding his life and enlightenment were questionable too, especially because many such texts have obviously been embellished with super natural stories and mythological imagery. Digging further I found that one of the more reliable and ancient source of information came from the texts called the Pali Canon which were established as the doctrinal basis of Buddhism shortly after Buddha’s death. Buddha however had taught the potential of an individual to directly perceive the deep universal truths and achieve liberation through meditative discipline.
Majjhima Nikaya Sutta 36 states that Buddha’s enlightenment occurred mainly in there phases. His First Visions Of Previous Lives ( a rough translation from Pali language) “…When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unsullied, devoid of impurity, compliant, adaptable, steadfast & composed, I directed it to the knowledge of remembering my past lives. I recollected many past lives, i.e., one birth, two…five, ten…fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, many eons of cosmic contraction, many eons of cosmic expansion, many eons of cosmic contraction & expansion: ‘There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose again. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.’ Thus I remembered my manifold past lives in their modes & details.”
Second Phase of his Enlightenment: Transmigration (Rebirth) of all beings and their causes… “I discerned how beings are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their Karma. ‘These beings who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech, & mind, who malign noble ones, held wrong views and under took actions under the influence of wrong views, with the disintegration of the body after death have re-appeared in the planes of deprivation and lower realms. But beings who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech and mind, who did not revile the noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views with the break-up of the body after death have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.”
Third Phase of his Enlightenment: Karma: …“When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of the ending of the mental ebullition. I discerned it as it was actually present, that ‘This is pain… This is the origination of pain… This is the cessation of pain… This is the way leading to the annihilation of mental turmoil… These are the fermentations… This is the origination of fermentations… This is the cessation of fermentations… This is the way leading to the cessation of fermentations.’ My heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, was released from the fermentation of sensuality, released from the fermentation of becoming, and released from the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there was the knowledge, ‘Released.’ I discerned that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done…’”
The Buddhist Thought :
An offshoot of Hinduism, Buddhism has no objection accepting biological evolution. Buddhist philosophy is evolutionary in nature and tends to agree more with the scientists than the clergy. Buddhism is agnostic about the existence of all pervading God. It also does not talk about with the concept of a soul surviving physical death.
In Buddhism, no gods have any power to alter any natural laws.
Buddhism believes that every Cause will have an Effect or in other words, what you sow, so shall you reap. It conforms to the scientific view of an ordered universe, governed by Dharma—a system both moral and physical, where everything works itself out on its own over a period of time without any divine intervention.
Buddha taught that all things are impermanent in nature and existence is in a constant state of flux. Just as in science Buddhism does not require its exponents to have blind belief in anything that Buddha said or taught. Buddha himself advised his disciples not to accept anything just because he was saying it, but to experience its truthfulness for themselves.
While the goal of the teachings of the Buddha is eradication of human suffering, the goal of modern science is providing mankind with all material comforts.
Parallels are also seen between Quantum Physics and Buddhism. Quantum theory says is that fundamental particles are empty of inherent existence and exist in an undefined state of potentialities. They have no inherent existence from their own side and do not become ‘real’ until a mind interacts with them and gives them meaning. Whenever there is no mind there is no meaning and no reality. This is a similar conclusion to the Mahayana Buddhist teachings on shunyata (शून्यता )
The Heart Sutra explains: “Form is emptiness, Emptiness is form”, which fits closely Nottale’s theory of quantum physics, which asserts that matter and space are not different. According to Buddhism, the nature of reality consists of everything being in a constant state of flux. This becomes obvious when we remember that the universe is itself is ever expanding since the Big Bang. Hence everything inside it too is in a state of constant flux.
Thus Shakyamuni had finally resolved his spiritual quest and achieved his goal, becoming an awakened one “The Buddha” . He was liberated from the never ending cycle of birth and rebirth never to be born again. Buddha observed that the whole of Creation is continuously in a state of flux. Everything around us is changing. Once upon a time dinosaurs roamed this earth. Eventually they all died out, but their passing away did not mark the end of life itself. Other forms of smaller mammals, birds and reptiles made their presence felt, eventually paving the way for humans to appear on this planet. We then changed from primitive homo-sapiens to the modern intelligent man. Our ideas also keep changing continuously. People once believed that the earth was flat, but now we know that it is round. Earth was once supposed to be the center of the universe whereas we now know it as a mere speck in this immeasurable cosmos. We once believed that we were a lonely planet in an extremely lonely universe and our existence was just a matter of chance. Now we know that there could be billions of earth like planets spread all over the cosmos with innumerable more advanced civilizations other than us humans. Our mind is also in a continuous state of flux, with one thought preceding another. Thus, there is continuous change both inside and outside and this is the underlying principle governing our existence.
There is no rest.
Rest will only come when we realize the true nature of the Mind and break away from this vicious cycle of births and deaths.
Images shot in different regions of Ladakh and Zanskar.
All images and text © Madhur Dhingra
Entangled | Chapter #1 | Śūnyatā ( སྟོང་པ་ཉིད ) – The Ultimate Void
By Madhur Dhingra
Madhur ’s Previous Contributions To Edge Of Humanity Magazine
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