11.8: SCIENCE AND SPIRITUALITY
(Talk delivered on Oct.3o,2018 at Indian Inst. of World Culture, Bangalore, as Dr. D.L. Subrahmanyam Memorial Lecture)
WHAT IS SPIRITUALITY?
Man has two kinds of instincts. One is the noble divine instinct - which, the Hindu scriptures say is his essential nature. The other is the animal instinct which shows up most of the time. To fight internally one’s animal instincts and resume permanently one’s natural instinct may be the best purpose of life. The pursuit of the divine instinct in oneself by oneself is Spirituality. This spiritual side is spoken of as more substantial than the transient objectives of life. By pursuing it one can regulate even one’s secular behavior and ethics - says every religion. True religion is the one that awakens this latent Spirituality in Man. The pursuit of this leads in some cases to some shades of mystic experience. It is mystic experience that gives Man the awareness that God is not a Cause that has to be invented because of a scientific rationale, but that He is the Cause in spite of that scientific rationale.
WHAT MORE DO WE NEED BEYOND SCIENCE?
This is what is missed by Science. Let us remember that Science is not just a body of facts or aggregate of narrative information. It is the method that Science adopts that gives it its important status in the body of knowledge. By pursuing the method relentlessly man has advanced the horizon of familiarity with nature so well that today he is deeply enthralled with the miracles that Science has worked for him. In the process he has conveniently forgotten that he has an obligation to learn to behave as Man before he cashes in on his scientific and technological breakthroughs. Science can only inform him, it cannot transform his animal nature for him. It was Albert Einstein who said “Science can denature Platinum; but it cannot denature evil in the heart.” For man to behave as man, he needs something more than science. This additional input has to come from outside of Science. First of all there has to be a recognition that scientific experience does not exhaust man’s total experience. Total experience is that which includes, his mental and emotional experience of pleasure and pain, happiness and sorrow, love and hate. One’s mental experience is not necessarily scientific or rational. One’s emotional experience, for instance while quarreling or arguing with one’s spouse is some times far from rational. The mind of man is a monkey which has to be handled with great care. Science has not yet played any role in this direction.
THIRD CATEGORY OF KNOWLEDGE
All scientific knowledge is only a judicious intellectual combination of perception and inference. The direct knowledge that comes out of perception - sensory, of course - is called pratyaksha knowledge. The (indirect) inferential knowledge which follows the perception is called paroksha knowledge. Vedanta says there is a third category of knowledge. Philosophy points to this knowledge. It is direct, sudden and immediate to those who can evolve themselves to that level and gain access to it. This is called aparoksha (= intuited) knowledge. We cannot come by that knowledge in the ordinary course of our lives. We have to seek it with effort, each individual on his own, for himself, by himself. The totality of truth intuitively realized by this intuited knowledge, say the scriptures, is the Spiritual Reality. It is not learnt even from the scriptures because the latter give only information, not the content. It is gained after studious inquiry and internal mental research by an illumination. This insight may, for all we know, be quite sudden or may have been blessed, by a Guru’s intervention or Divine Grace.
THE ULTIMATE, FOR EVERYTHING
It may be possible to intellectually agree to the existence of a Spiritual Reality but it is very difficult to mentally imagine it. Man can imagine Water without Earth, Fire without Water and Earth, Air without Fire, Water and Earth, and even Space without Air, Fire, Water and Earth but it is very difficult, almost impossible for Man to imagine something outside of Space. The negation of Space and the conception of something subtler than Space, into which even Space has to merge, is not for the finite mind. The Vedas declare there exists such an entity. They call it sat, (= Existence, Existent Entity, Truth). They say this does not evolve from anything, but it is from this that everything has evolved, including Space and Time - scientists to note.
Cf. Taittiriyopanishad: AkAshAd vAyuH, vAyoragniH, agnerApaH, adbhyaH prithivI, prithivyA oshadhayaH, oshadhIbhyo.annaM, annAtpurushhaH ….
Also Shankara’s dakshiNAmurthyashhTakaM : bIjasyAntarivAnkurorjagadidaM prAng nirvikalpaM punaH mAyA kalpita-desha-kAla-kalanAt vaicitrya-chitrI kRRitam …..
This Ultimate is identified by various names and forms by different schools of Hindu philosophical thought. Philosophy points to this Reality, speculates about it in different ways and speaks about it through metaphor. That is why there are different schools of Philosophy, even within the one religion of Hinduism. But the moment I say this, different questions arise in the thinking mind. Is there a God? What is God? What is the origin of life? Of mankind? Of the universe? What is man's place in the universe? Is the universe finite or infinite? Why is it so? Did God create it so? Was there a creation? From what? When? What was there before? Who created Him? Why did He create ? What was the objective? Why is there human suffering? Is there not a contradiction between scientific truths and spiritualistic assertions?
REASON, EXPERIENCE & SCRIPTURAL EVIDENCE
In pursuing these questions with the spiritually oriented persons, we have to contend with many arguments. We cannot depend on Reason alone; because we may be only rationalizing our own wishes. But the scientist and rationalist says we cannot be depending on scriptures alone; because we may tend to become dogmatic. And both agree that we cannot be depending on Experience alone; because we may be visualizing our own dreams. All three are necessary.
POSITIVE ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE UNKNOWN
The Perceived is 'pratyaksha'. The inferred is 'paroksha' The intuited is aparoksha'. The first two constitute Science. The third is to be pursued for spiritual enlightenment. Spiritual intuition is not born out of fear, not a flash of impulsiveness, nor a stroke of fantasy, nor a burst of emotion, nor a breakthrough of the intellect. It is something like a sudden perception of color by the color-blind. You know when you have got it. And you know it only then.
Spiritual perceptions described by the scriptures sound impossible. But marvels of fundamental matter described by science are equally mysterious. Superstring theory. World of Ten dimensions. The complexity of the Quantum Mechanical world is stranger than fiction. Two-hole experiment of Wave-particle duality.
Usually in any discussion about the need for spirituality, there is a common tendency to raise the standard question: What is the proof for the existence of a spiritual reality? In asking for a scientific proof of the statements made by scriptures, seers and saints, we are slipping into a trap. Recall that the eye cannot corroborate the decibel value of the noise the ear heard nor can the ear corroborate the color of what the eye saw. So also by asking for ‘scientific proof’ in the SAstra (= science) of the Inner Self we are looking for the answer in the wrong direction. Religion is not just rites, rituals and miracles, though these figure prominently in all popular practices of every religion. The thesis here is that though we may be apparently confronted with contradictions, if we look at the foundations or axioms from which the different conclusions of Science and Spirituality were arrived at, they can be seen to belong to two independent frameworks and as such are not comparable. The question of a logical contradiction does not arise. Science and Spiritual Reality require different instruments of knowledge. Basic positive attitude to the unknown dimension of Reality is sraddhA. That which is beyond reason is not necessarily unreasonable. Science promises to explain only a part of the universe and of human experience. What do we know of God? Has Science talked about God? What rationale makes us believe that God has to be rational in His behaviour? Are we not delimiting the very nature of the Almighty? Who are we to set rules to His behaviour? The knower gets the knowledge of the knowlable object with the help of the instrument of knowledge. The seer gets the sight of the visual object with the help of the eye, the instrument of vision. Here, the ear is of no help. And vice versa. No comparison as for example between, say, Gavaskar and M.S. The instrument of knowledge that you need depends on the nature of the knowlable object. The instrument of knowledge that you need for knowing the Absolute Reality is none of the senses nor the mind.
Here is an example from Mathematics which shows that what appears to be two contradictory statements may both be true in their own setting, provided the hypothesis of that setting is granted. This may look like stating the obvious, but there is more in it. Look at the following statement where we are not being told where it is coming from:
5 + 3 = 1 = 5 x 3 (*)
Obviously this is an invalid statement, because 5 + 3 is 8 and not 1 and also 5 times 3 is 15 and not 1. This is the conclusion we must arrive at if we were not given more data. Thus there is a contradiction between (*) and the ordinary arithmetic. This contradiction, however, will be resolved if we know under what hypothesis we made the statement (*). It was made under the hypothesis that every number would be treated as equivalent to the remainder it produces after a division by 7. Once this hypothesis is granted, we see that 8 is equivalent to its remainder 1, and 15 is equivalent to its remainder 1. Thus (*) is a true valid statement under the hypothesis made. It is certainly ‘contrary’ to the ordinary arithmetic where the statement would be
5 + 3 = 8 , 5 x 3 = 15 and 15 is not equal to 8 (**)
The two ‘contrary’ statements, (*) and (**) however, are both ‘true’ in their respective worlds that follow from the hypothesis made for them. One might say at this point that the new hypothesis made regarding casting off multiples of 7 and taking only the remainder is rather bizarre and seems to have been cooked up just to make a point. This is not so. It is not as bizarre as it looks. Such assumptions and the consequent different algebras are extensively handled by both mathematicians and electronic transmission experts, through the use of what they call ‘error-correcting codes’ in correcting transmission errors in message transmission from space satellites.
QUESTION: Are you not giving bizarre meanings to the ordinary numbers 5 and 3 to get your statement (*)? If you give them their ordinary meanings then your example will fall flat.
It is wrong to say that we are giving different meanings to the numbers 5 and 3 other than their normal ones. We are giving them the same ordinary meanings but we are putting them through a new process - the process of taking remainders after division by 7 - which we did not conceive of earlier. Once one understands the process, or we may say, this algebra, then 5 plus 3 and 5 times 3 could give the same answer though ordinarily they don’t.
I have a very simple question for those who have no acquaintance with spiritual matters and who think that Science and Technology can answer everything. Well, very often, after a good night’s sleep, we say, I SLEPT HAPPILY. Now look at the following conversation between a Guru and a sishya:
G: Do you usually sleep well?
S: Oh yes, I do. I sleep like a log.
G: Were you happy then?
S: It is a blissful experience.
G: But to register the experience, mind should be there. Was your mind active when you were sleeping?
S: Certainly not, unless I was dreaming.
G: Were you dreaming?
S: We were talking of the situation when I was sleeping like a log.
G: Good. So then how do you know you were happy then?
S: Well, it is only a memory after the event.
G: In order that it may be a memory, it has to be an experience by the mind, to be recalled after the event has passed.
S: What are you driving at? I am confused. The mind was not active then.
G: That inactive mind, brings back a memory of happiness, when it wakes up.
S: That is the riddle.
G: Scriptures say: The jIva which was one with the BMI, now goes back to the Self, during the sleep of the BMI.
S: But the Self is Bliss.
G: So the jIva is one with that reservoir of bliss namely the Self, during the sleep of the BMI.
G: When the BMI wakes up, the jIva resumes its usual mistake of identification with BMI.
S: It sounds like a thriller now!
G: And the mind, with which the jIva is one now, borrows that taste of bliss with which the jIva was in contact.
S: You mean now the mind talks of happiness as if it were its own experience!
G. That process is called ‘pratyabhiGYA’. Adi Shankara has focused on this concept is his 6th shloka of DakshinamurthyashhTakam: rAhugrasta-divAkarendu sadRRisho mAyAamAcchhAdanAt sanmAtraH karaNopasamharaNato yo.abhUt sushhuptaH pumAn; prAgasvApsamiti prabhodhasamaye yaH pratyabhiGYAyate …..
SPIRITUALITY, A DIFFERENT ‘ALGEBRA’
In general, when a scientist hesitates to accept the axiom of spirituality being the essence of Man and the validity of certain mystic intuitive experiences, he falls into the very superstition which he has been warning his fellow beings for centuries. He cannot contend that because the concept of the Inner Self appears to contradict his scientific rationale, it must be invalid. This is only similar to the attitude taken by sixteenth century priests towards Copernicus. Just because the propositions of Copernicus contradicted their religious beliefs and practices, they were considered to be wrong! The subject of the Inner Self is not in the field of Science; it is the field of Vedanta. Thus when a scientist hears a mystic talking about the Inner Self, he has no grounds for asserting that the mystic is talking about something that is non-existent. It is a different ‘algebra’ that the mystic is talking about. He is talking about a different process to be applied to the same body, same senses and the same mind and this results, according to him, in a different perception of one’s own self. In the world of the seekers for Spirituality there are stories and stories of how each one comes to this conclusion from his own experience
Actually stranger is the strangeness of the Quantum Mechanical description of the micro-universe. The philosophical implications of this interpretation from Quantum Mechanics are breathtaking. The major one is the affirmation that there is no objective Reality behind the physical universe reachable by Science. The standard joke about this is: Is the moon there when nobody looks? Any description of Reality that you undertake, says Modern Physics, will always be subjective; the impact of the subject who observes will always persist. Without the interference of the Subject, no object at the subatomic level can be observed with precision!. Thus the emerging world view of Science is that of a complex interconnected system of interacting particles, the observer himself being an integral part of the whole system. This complexity constitutes the most important fundamental problem of Science that we are carrying into the 21st century. It is this which has prompted many scientists like Paul Davies, Roger Penrose, H.K. Kesavan, Douglas Hofstadter and a host of others to write and research about a scientific interpretation of Consciousness. On the other hand, several centuries ago, the sages of India provided a fuller view of Reality from their intuitive enlightenment (= aparoksha-jnAna). According to them, Consciousness is fundamental and Matter and everything else is a derivative (= work of prakRti) from it. It is the other way in Science. Matter is fundamental; Energy arises from it.
LORD, THE ONLY IMMUTABLE SUBSTRATUM
That such a Reality exists ontologically and is realizable if and when the states of awareness are extended beyond their usual sensory limits is a conclusion which has been repeatedly affirmed by successive generations of Seers and Saints up to the present day. These are the spiritual scientists -. Philosophy only speculates about it and to that extent it falls short of the Reality. Religion commits the error of mixing dogma with it, blurs the issue and thus falls short of the same truth. But the declarations of the scriptures and the records left by sages over the centuries are clear that the spiritual experiment to seek the Truth is repeatable and can lead to the mystic awareness of the declaration from the Upanishads: ISAvAsyam-idAm sarvam yat kimca jagatyAm jagat meaning, the entire universe is clothed, covered and inhabited by the Lord, the Ruler, the Creator. It is the Lord that lies as the transcendental substratum for everything that we see. Whatever we see or sense in this phenomenal world only come and go. The only immutable thing is vAsu-deva, meaning, the indwelling Lord. He is the Subject that witnesses all our experiences. He is the One that remains as the bottom line. Ocean & Wave. Sat, Chit, Ananda, Nama & Rupa. The greatest confirmation of Spirituality in the Vedanta way is this Discovery, the Discovery that the Truth we are after is indwelling in us. It is in this inner Spiritual experience that one finds the proof, if proof be needed, of the great spiritual pronouncements of the Vedas
That Science and Spirituality are only two complementary sides of the same coin may be seen from the following points of contrast between the two:
Science has made major contributions to the minor needs of man. while Spirituality makes only minor demands for the major needs of man.
2.Science Informs man about all that is individual and all that is perceptible through the sense organs. but Spirituality transforms man by bringing to him the holistic aspect of a macro-perception.
3.By its very nature, Science has to be subject to the rationale . while by its very purpose, Spirituality has to transcend the rationale.
4.Science exploits for humanity the reductionist aspect of the universe. while Spirituality puts together the holistic aspect of the universe.
5 While the former unravels the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of things , Spirituality reveals the ‘that’ and ‘why’ of things. ( Example : Child immediately after birth learns by itself to suck the milk from the breast of the mother; it is God-given vAsanA from previous births)
6 While Science .Is a collective obligation, answerable to the peers in the society., Spirituality .Is an individual responsibility, irrespective of the experts in the society.
7.Science takes care of mankind’s
micro-problems. and Spirituality undertakes to fulfill mankind’s macro-aspirations, like Why this life?, after this life, what?
8.Science constantly pursues a reconciliation between infinitesimal smallness (the sub-atomic)
and infinite immensity (the super-cosmic). while Spirituality repeatedly reveals
a reconciliation between infinitesimal smallness (the individual soul) and infinite immensity (the transcendental absolute).
Science without Religion is rudderless and blind because we cannot keep on relying or depending on the ordinary without having a sense for the extra-ordinary. Science if pursued without a truly religious background, would only encourage aggression, rudeness and insensitivity, whereas if pursued with a coating of the humane values of religion, that is, not the narrow fundamentalist dogmatic religion, but the true religion which is reinforced by Spirituality, that Science would turn out to be the faultless boon to society. Though wars have been fought on the basis of religion, they have been fought only with the help of science and technology. Whenever such a disastrous war ends it is not because of science but because of the fact that either there was nothing more to destroy or kill or that ultimately humane values prevailed. If today the terrorist elements of the world are indulging in untold massacres of innocent men, women, children and property, the only way by which we may hope to stop them is not just by more science and technology but by complementing it with more and more of proper education soaked in human values. It has been rightly said that humanity is a brainwashed species indoctrinated from childhood into the prejudices of nationality, race, color, language, and caste.
Religion is far more than a system of beliefs, and far more than a formalized effort to wheedle a little pity out of God by offering Him naïve self-condemning prayers and propitiatory rites. The latter is narrow religion and should not be mistaken for true religion. Looked at this way there is no contradiction between science and religion. The larger religion through its call for spirituality takes man into communion with his own divine self. This aspect of religion has no contradiction with science. Once we enter the arena of Spirituality we would discover that Truth is not unearthed by science alone, but it has an even faster rate of unfolding via spirituality. The metaphysical reality namely the supreme Transcendental Absolute that Vedanta talks about, does not depend on Science for its truth and veracity nor will it be affected by the continuing progress of Science. To the truly religious person for whom God is not a mere hypothesis, but the supreme fact of existence and experience, science, by what it proves or disproves at any point of time can only uphold the glory of God.
WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT VEDANTA?
The second law of thermodynamics for instance, operates inexorably to reduce the organization of the universe to chaos. This law is most fundamental to all science. It says, in simple terms, that every day the universe when taken as a whole becomes more and more disordered. But it holds no terror to Vedanta because the Absolute is eternal, perfect unchangeable and indestructible. Recall Gita: ‘acchhedyo.ayaM adAhyo.ayaM akleshhyo.ashoshhya eva ca; nityaH sarvagataH sthANuH achalo.yaM sanaatanaH”, meaning, it is uncleavable, it is incombustible, it can neither be drenched nor dried, eternally stable, immobile (because there is no sso-called-space to move, for all space isalready pervaded by it ) all-pervading, it is for ever and for ever.
Assume that scientists are able to prove in the coming years the existence of extra-terrestrial intelligence. It would not have any adverse impact on the religion called Hinduism, just as the moon-landing did not do anything (nor would a possible man-landing on Mars do something) to shake its Vedantic foundations. Man may land on the moon and inhabit it. But that cannot deny the status of the Moon-God to the Moon and its status as the seat of the ancestral souls ( = pitr’s) which is part of the culture, religion, tradition and belief. The very earth on which one sits, stands and sleeps, for that matter, is considered as the Goddess, BhUmA-devi. A scientist may pray to Her as he gets up in the morning and ask Her pardon for all the contamination and pollution he will be doing on the earth during the day. Hinduism is not nature worship. Behind every form and object of Nature there is the Ultimate supreme which is the one Reality present everywhere and at all times. When one worships the sun-God what is worshipped is not the physical sun. The external manifestation is only secondary. The Absolute Supreme that is behind is primary. One of several famous passages from kena-Upanishad says: Whatever cannot be seen by the eyes but by which the eyes see, that is brahman, not the one that you see physically and worship.
It is the abstraction that is the object of worship even though it is the physical appearance that gets all the attraction and attention. It is the same in the case of idol worship which is very much a part of the Hindu religion. Assume again that science produces, in the future, very compelling reasons (it knows them not now) why certain physical numerical constants are what they are in value – such as, for example, the force of gravity, the distance from the sun to the earth, the internal electric charge of an atom of hydrogen, and hosts of others, -- even then, would the principles of Vedanta change? No, because the basic tenets of Vedanta have nothing to do with the amount of knowledge mankind has gained through its sense-perceptions.