As you may know, akasha is the vedic term for what we call space. Like all vedic words the word akasha has a very intimate relation with that what it signifies. The word akasha is made up of three syllables: A, KA, SHA.
A signifies the totality, the fullness of the fullness, KA signifies the nothingness of the gap value, the fullness of emptiness. SHA signifies: the best, highest, the most excellent. This means that akasha stands for the best part of all creation. The most subtle and vast level of the total range of creation, spreading from A to KA, or from greater than the greatest to smaller than the smallest.
So akasha, or space is really a good subject to spend some of our attention to. Space, as we know it, is something of an all-pervading nature. Everything that we can imagine must necessarily occupy some kind of space, So space is directly related to infinity. In fact, we can safely say that space is a concept to measure infinity. Isnt space itself infinite? Of course it is, because if it would have an end somewhere, what would be behind it? It is just not possible to think of space that has edges somewhere. In vedic literature, space appears as the first level of object-referral creation.
Long before objective creation, there is the immortal, infinite, eternal value of pure consciousness, which is ever awake in itself, or in other words: aware of itself.
The Vedas call this self-awareness samhita, with its three aspects of knower, known and process of knowing.
By the internal dynamics of the samhita, or pure awareness, pure consciousness, eight constituents of creation naturally arise, which are called the eight prakritis, of which space is one.
O First, the feeling of self-awareness is present,
as the ultimate source of all creativity.
O Then naturally the discriminative value gets awakened namely the intellect.
O Thirdly, the deciding faculty gives rise to the thinking faculty, manas, or mind. Than the transition takes place, all on a transcendental level of course, from self-referral to object referral.
Space is than the first outcome of the cosmic mind. From space air comes out. From air fire is produced, from fire comes water from water comes earth. These eight basic constituents then form the fundamental elements on which the whole creation appears to take form.
This process is described in several Upanishads and also in Vedangas, Upangas, etc.
After having known the origin of space in samhita, we can proceed to have a closer look at its nature.
The question arises: is space something manifest at all? Can we see or hear, or touch space? That will be hard to maintain, as everything we can see or hear or touch has its place in space! Havent we seen just before, that all five elements in nature the five tanmatras as they are called are related to each other, in the sense that every grosser element contains the finer elements in it? This means earth contains water, fire, air, and space. Water contains fire, air, and space. Fire contains air, and space. Air contains space. And space contains the three subject-referral prakritis: mind, intellect, and ego. This means that the constituents of space are purely subjective, and that it gives rise to the other four elements that are grosser. Space, seen from this angle is like the lamp at the door. Therefore it is called AKASHA, where KA, emptiness holds the middle position between A, pure subjectivity, and SHA, the best of creation. It seems to be the transition point between subjectivity and objectivity.
So if it is difficult to say that we can perceive space, it will be equally difficult to maintain that one cannot perceive space, although truly speaking, we can only see it with our subjective sense, our intellect. Our manifest senses are themselves made of space, and all they can see, hear touch, taste and smell, is manifestations of and in space! Only the three subjective prakritis are subtler, and therefore can perceive them. And only from this subjective level we can influence them. From this fact stems the vedic expression that man can become the master of creation. In this way, we are never to forget that we ourselves transcend in an infinite measure of space, which itself is also infinite.
How infinite is space, actually?
Can we get an intellectual grip on its nature and vastness?
Let us try to see how the space where we as human beings are living is structured. As most of you know, the earth that we inhabit is a globe in space. Standing at the shore of the ocean we can even perceive its roundness.
How large is it exactly? Its diameter is 12,756 km.
When you want to make a journey around the world, you must know how many km you have to travel. Then, just multiply the diameter by π : 3.141596 x 12,756 = 40,074 km.
By boat this takes several months. By airplane, speeding with 1000 km/hr it will take you almost two days, 40 hours. We know, light travels relatively fast. For human concepts, it goes even very fast. It takes only 1/7 sec for it, to circle our globe.
Most of the light here on earth, we know comes from the Sun. Sun is the central pivot of our solar system. How far we are removed from him? Almost 150,000,000 km. This makes almost 12,000 times our diameter. (To fly there by plane would take us 150,000 hours or 6250 days = over 17 years!)
How big is the Sun actually? It looks equally big as our Moon, but it is at a greater distance. Its diameter is 1,400,000 km. This means that our earth fits 109 times on its diameter. How long does it take for its light to reach us?
Since the speed of light is 300,000 km/sec, it takes about eight minutes to reach the earth.
Now we know there are more planets around the Sun. Jupiter is the biggest of them all: 142,800 km in diameter, more than 11 Earths fit on its diameter.
Its distance to the Sun is 778,300,000 km. The sunlight takes about 43 minutes to reach it. (43,2388) Flying there by plane would take almost 89 years!
The farthest planet that we can see with the naked eye is Saturn. It is almost as big as Jupiter, but it look so small, like a faint star, because it is twice as far away as Jupiter: 1,427,000,000 km. The sunlight takes almost 80 minutes to get there (79,2777...).
Then about twice as far as Saturn we find the planet Uranus: 2,870,000,000 km. Light takes 160 minutes, or 2 hours and 40 minutes to reach it. Our aeroplanes would take 328 years to get there.
About thrice as far as Saturn, the planet Neptune is found; 4,497,000,000 km from the Sun (By plane 513 years) Light needs about 250 minutes (249,8333...) to reach it: more than 4 hours.
The farthest planet known by modern science is called Pluto. Its average distance to the Sun is 5,900,000,000 km, or say almost 6 billion km: 4,13 times as far as Saturn is. Light, having a cruising speed of 1,080,000,000 km per hour (say about one billion km/hr) takes almost 6 hours to knock at its door. A modern aeroplane would need 675 years to get there!
So now we have a sort of spatial idea of the size of our solar system. Its diameter is about 15 billion km, taking the elongated course of Pluto into consideration.
So light speed would be a convenient means to travel by, as far as our solar system is concerned. Eight minutes to the Sun, and about 6 to 7 hours to Pluto.
Before we take leave of our solarsystem and explore the space that makes up our galaxy, let us resume what we saw so far, by way of an earthly illustration.
If we compare our Sun with a snowball, of 1 meter diameter, then the nine planets figure as follows.
First comes Mercury, which in space is almost 58 million km removed from the Sun, with its diameter of 4880 km. Compared to the snowball Sun, Mercury is a small lentil of 3.5 mm, 41.35 m removed from the snowball.
Venus, in space 108,200,000 km away from the Sun, with a diameter of 12,100 km, would look like a pea of 8,6 mm, 77 m removed from the snowball. Who would be able to find it?
Spaceship Earth; 149,600,000 km away from the Sun, with a diameter slightly bigger than Venus, 12,756 km, would appear like a blue berry of 9.11 mm, speeding around the snowball at a distance of 108 m. Around the berry, at a distance of 28 cm, you will find a buckwheat grain of 2.48 mm in diameter. (say 2.5 mm), known as the Moon.
Mars, the red planet, about half the diameter of our Earth (6787 km) would show up as a young red berry of less than half a centimetre (4.85 mm), revolving around the snowball, 163 m removed from it. Its real distance being 227,900,000 km.
Jupiter, the biggest planet of our celestial family, measuring about 11 earthly diameters (142,800 km), at a distance of 778,300,000 km, would have the size of an nice golden range of 10,2 cm. In 12 years it would revolve around the snowball at a respectable distance of more than half a km: 555.9 m!
Saturn, somewhat smaller than the previous one (120,000 km) finds itself twice as far from the Sun 1,427,000,000 km. You may imagine him as an apple of 8.6 cm, moving slowly around the snowball in 30 years, at a distance however of more than 1 km (1,019.28 m).
Uranus, most of the time not visible for the human eye, measures less than half the size of Saturn (51,300 km), and is 2,870,000,000 km away. In our model you would see it as a blue plum of 3.6 cm, located 2,050 m away from our snowball.
Neptune, 4,497,000,000 km away, with its diameter of 49,100 km would figure also as a blue plum of 3,5 cm, encircling the snowball at a distance of 3,212 m. Probably you wil find it in some neighbouring village, outside the town where you have made your snowball.
Pluto, who has in fact a companion, named Charon, is 5,900,000,000 km away, and its diameter of 2,300 km can best be compared to a mustard seed of 1.6 mm, which you have to search for at a distance of more than 4 km (4,214 m). In reality Pluto is smaller than our Moon. Is it any wonder that mankind found it so late (in 1930)?
All in all, this model gives us a nice perspective on the relative size and distances of the elements that structure our near environment in space. By the way, the scale of it is 1 : 1,400,000,000 (1 to 1.4 billion). IF we formulate the distances in terms of the earths distance to the Sun, we again have a means to visualise the relative distances. In astronomy the distance Sun-Earth is called an astronomical unit (AU). Then the picture looks like this:
If one were to build up the snowball model of our solar system, say in a snowy meadow in the midst of Holland, where we can ask ourselves, where would the centre of our galaxy be placed? In Paris, Madrid, Cairo or the Himalayas or what? In order to answer this question, we once more will study the speed of light. Because only with this speed, it will be possible to escape the narrow boundaries of our solar system.
Now, the speed of light is 300,000 km/s; or in more day to day language: 1,080 million km per hour. Who would not like to have such a car? Rounding it down we can say that light has the speed of 1 billion km/hr. How fast is that, actually?
7½ times around the earth in one second, 27,000 times around the earth in an hour; 270,000 times back and forth between San Francisco and New York (4,000 km), per hour; 9.46 trillion km/year (i.e. 9.46 x 1012 km » 1013 km/year) Or say almost 10 trillion km per year. This forms what is called a light-year: 236,682,000 times around the earth (say ± 237 million times).
Now we will see whether this speed furnishes a feasible means to step out of our solar system. As is commonly known since the beginning of this century, our Sun is one of the many stars that are grouped together in what is called a galaxy. The nearest star to our Sun is located at 4.3 light-years away (=4.3 million years per plane). Our Sun is placed in one of the many arms that come out of the centre of our spiral galaxy. Light, travelling at ± 9.5 trillion km per year, takes 26,000 years to reach us, from the centre of our galaxy. The Sun is stationed about halfway one of the arms of the galaxy, therefore, the total diameter of our galaxy spans 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 1018 km, or simply 100,000 light-years.
When we as human beings would like to visit our neighbouring stars better we find a means of transport, that is much faster than light. For interstellar overdrives, light is simply to slow! UFOs are only thinkable if they move millions times faster than light.
Coming back to our snowball model, it will be nice to see at what distance of the snowball, the great concentration of snowballs is located, corresponding to the centre of our local galaxy.
Say, you build this model in the meadows near Frankfurt airport, and if you take a plane to the centre of the snowball galaxy, how long and to where the plane has to fly, with an average speed of 1000 km/hr?
The answer is ......... The plane will not be able to reach it! One can only go there by rocket because it lies far beyond the sun at a distance of 186 million km into space. If the plane would be able to go there , it would take him 7750 days, or more than 21 years.... non-stop flight. Remember, all within our snowball model!! In reality it is 1,400,000,000 times faster anyway... (=30 billion years by plane).
This gives us some insight into the distances that prevail in our tiny local galaxy.
The distance of Earth to Sun was 108 m, the distance of Sun to his centre of attraction is 18 million km, inside the model. This shows, we have entered into a new dimension, within the unbounded space.
If US government would allow us to build a model of our spiral galaxy, having the size of that large country in the world, then our solar system would have a diameter of 7 cm.
Copyright © 1998. Drs. Frans Langenkamp, Ph.D. All rights reserved.