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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Quantifying Dukkha

By Atreya (participant in Youth Retreat held at Vedanta Society of Providence, July 25-27, 2014)
Having read books by Swami Vivekananda, it is very difficult to resist the temptation of - giving up the worldly life and taking up the life of a monk. This spiritual retreat, under the guidance of Swami Yogatmananda, provided a balanced learning experience. It helped me gain better control of my emotions, behavior and actions while humbly reminding that we have lot more to know about this universe.

Walking the noble eightfold path, encompassing Samyak- drishti (view), Sankalpa (intention), Vac (speech), Karmanta (action), Ajiva (livelihood), Vyayama (effort), Smriti (midfulness) and Samadhi (concentration), we can completely eradicate Dukkha from our life. As any other powerful tool, these are difficult to master. These are to be practised simultaneously like spokes of a wheel.

One of the things that make it difficult is our inability to express these things precisely. Many times I have doubts, but I find it difficult to express them in words. Also, many times answers are vague. These challenges make it necessary to quantify and mathematize this beautiful science of spirituality. We can quantify external world. And since internal world is connected to external world, there is some hope in doing that.

An important comment by Swamiji was that we need to reformulate our natural number system, units and have a set of semi-integral cardinality. As I understand, this is necessary to handle the complex working of our mind, a part of which can watch itself while doing some other work.

There are some physical quantities which are conserved like energy, momentum etc. On the other hand while meditating we stress the concept of "Existence". Only because I exist, I am aware and I can think of mathematical consistency. If I did not exist then the concept of awareness and mathematical consistencies are meaningless. Conservation laws are nothing but consistency check. This makes me believe that probably "Energy", "Momentum" are physical realization of abstract concept of "Existence".

These things give me tremendous hope that we will soon reach a point when, as Swami Vivekananda wished, each of us will be able to see the self within us effortlessly.


  1. Quantification is possible only for those physical quantities that are perceived by senses. One cannot quantify internal world quantities: for example how can you quantify hunger, love, jealousy etc.? Even if you "somehow" quantify them, how would you standardize them with fundamental units that can be understood by others? More importantly, I am guessing you want this spiritual science to be precise and clearly expressive like physical sciences so that they can be verified/understood. The "truths" or "facts" that have been presented in spiritual books through experiences of others can only be verified by oneself by doing one's own experiment unlike in physical science where a verification done by someone else will suffice as demonstration of its validity. But the beauty in this personal verification process in spiritual science (unlike in physical science) is that the experimenter himself/herself will be transformed to become blissful.

  2. It appears that someone has actually quantified happiness now. I guess this will make the author of this post happy:

  3. You have raised a valid point, which bothered me also. Quantifying hunger, jealousy etc is really difficult. To start with some basic concepts like "decision", "actions" probably can be quantified.

    As you rightly mentioned, standardisation is the most important point. If you think deeply, none of the physical quantities like 1m, 1kg etc are really standardised. Something is truly standardised, if that object produces same impression in the mind of all observers. But even if the object is same there is no way of guarantying that mental impressions are same. For example same wavelength of light may produce impression of two completely different color in mind of two different persons. But both of them call that light with the same name, say ' red '. Then it is standardised externally but not internally.

    Only thing that is truly standardised is 'natural number'. Natural numbers "1, 2, 3, ..." are unitless, that is what makes them truly standardised. Probably all the stuff around us are "pure" numbers floating around.

    I completely agree with you, there is nothing more beautiful than verifying the truths of spiritual books ourselves.