Scientific Spirituality

Jan - Feb 2003

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The universe comes out of the union of two fundamental forces: matter (jada, or ’that which gives shape’) and consciousness (chetan). These are also respectively known as prakrati (the manifested form) and purusha (the invisible enlivening spirit). Both have their own merits when considered in isolation; however, it is the union and co-operation of these two entities that works wonders. The human body is a very good example of this fact. Our body is made up of five basic elements -the panca tatvas.

The body is an integrated form of various organs, muscles, nerves, arteries, veins etc., and can be used to accomplish any desired work but is non-functional without consciousness. The consciousness part of man (termed "the soul") thinks, decides and directs organs towards a particular task. The separation of consciousness from matter results in death. A dead body is useless since it is not functional. In the absence of consciousness, it rapidly decays and its constituting elements eventually dissolve into their cosmic states.

In essence, it is the association of matter and consciousness that gives rise to functionality. Matter alone, otherwise, is unorganised and of very little use even though it is present in abundance in the universe. For example, water is plentiful in oceans but is too salty. The atmosphere is full of gases, electro-magnetic rays, X-rays etc. but these components are not useful on their own. It is the human intervention, or alternatively the intervention of developed consciousness, that organises matter so as to make it useful. For example, man has developed methods to process water to make it fit for human consumption. Fire and electricity were present in the universe since times immemorial, but man's intelligence organised these entities in a utilisable form.

Thus, although the components of Nature are powerful in their own right, their usefulness has depended on the inventive skills of human consciousness. 

Science and spirituality:

The discovery of the powers of Nature, their organisation and the skills that make them useful to man is called science. Science can thus be called the unison of matter and consciousness. Science has made possible the progress of the human civilisation. It should be noted that the knowledge of the use of matter is not enough; its righteous use should also be considered. The same criterion also applies to consciousness. In the absence of their righteous use, matter and consciousness are open to be abused.

The attraction of immediate gains is such that its long-term effects are not appreciated and this short-sighted judgement prompts man to misuse power. Ultimately, he creates a web in which he gets trapped, just like a fish caught in a net. This results in suffering, public anger and self-destruction, and yet it is a practice generally adopted by most people. The society and the government rarely succeed in preventing such practices....Science can be legitimately credited for the current progress and prosperity, but it is incapable of differentiating between use and abuse. The only way to control its misuse is to incorporate wisdom based on foresightedness and the nobilities associated with human glory. This is the essence of spirituality.

Spirituality means, "centred and established on the soul", that is, activities in life are designed keeping the awakening of the soul as the aim. The soul is the individualized consciousness present in the human body. Consciousness is more powerful than matter. As discussed earlier, it is the miracle of consciousness that organises matter in an orderly way. However, unrestrained consciousness has drawbacks too. For example, it is easy to find faults in others, but does anyone try to observe his own self for their own faults? Usually, an individual is biased towards his shortcomings and considers him self the best.

A person trying to prove him self right will present several arguments in his favour. This distorts the reality and generates undesirable thoughts. The dual accomplishment of the righteous use of science and the refinement of consciousness is possible only through spirituality.

The great divide:

Since the 17th century, when modern science made its first appearance, it has clashed with religion/spirituality. At the root of the clash lie two streams of beliefs. Science believes everything is made up of matter and therefore ought to be demonstrable through experiments. A spiritualist insists that pure Spirit is reality, not matter. The great Indian seer-sage Sri Aurobindo has termed the scientific viewpoint as "the materialist denial" and the spiritual viewpoint as "the refusal of the ascetic" in his magnum opus The Life Divine.

Discussing these issues further, Sri Aurobindo says the premise of science is that the physical senses are our only means of obtaining knowledge. Therefore, reason cannot transcend the reach of the senses and so, says Sri Aurobindo, "it must deal always and solely with the facts which they [the senses] provide or suggest."2 Science says that we cannot go beyond our senses and cannot use them "as a bridge leading us into a domain where more powerful and less limited faculties come into play" 3 In other words, science denies the existence of anything that is supernatural, supraphysical or extrasensory. In doing so, science assumes Nature to be an unintelligent substance or energy and uses this excuse to refuse, in the words of Sri Aurobindo, "to extend the limits of inquiry". However, science has come to a stage where prominent scientists accept that there are several phenomena, backed by compelling evidences, which cannot be explained by the current formulations of scientific theories and laws, but only by the presence of an unthinkable, omniscient Intelligence. Examples include: the behaviour of Earth as a single living organism, telepathy, precognition, the presence of a Universal Mind, etc. Sri Aurobindo says the spiritualist believes that pure Spirit is a reality because there are supraphysical realities that are beyond the grasp of the senses, based on principles other than those that govern gross matter. Therefore, it is not justifiable to reject them as "false positives". For a spiritualist, consciousness is the unifying factor in the universe, which Sri Aurobindo calls "the universal witness for whom the world is a field", while "the senses are [its] mere instruments". The spiritualist considers the material universe as unreal.

What are the consequences of these two streams of beliefs? Both are seriously flawed, according to Sri Aurobindo. A mixture of matter and consciousness gives a meaningful functionality. If we adopt a purely materialistic view, Sri Aurobido says we arrive at a māyā "that is [present] and yet is not [present]". We see the physical aspects of the universe and so māyā is present and compelling, leading us to believe what we see is the only reality. Yet, māyā "is not", because it is transitory. Transformation is the principle of the universe. On the other hand, the refusal of material existence leads, in Sri Aurobindo's view, to the development of ego and the purposelessness of the human existence

.In the modern times, the conflict between science and spirituality has further deepened. They have become two separate streams in practice. Both are in a muddled state of affairs and each falsely believes to be complete in its own right. As a result the worldview has become fragmented and has led to manifold problems, a view endorsed by modern thinkers. Eminent physicist David Bohm explains this extremely well in his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order. He says that everything is treated as separate, rather than as a part of "something bigger and wider"; thus we have separate religions, separate sciences, separate subjects, separate nations, separate societies, separate families etc. And how does this view act as a precursor to problems? Bohm provides a simple answer:

 "The notion that all these fragments are separately existent is evidently an illusion, and this illusion cannot do other than lead to endless conflict and confusion. Indeed, the attempt to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is, in essence, what has led to the growing series of extremely urgent crises that is confronting us today. Thus, as is now well known, this way of life has brought about pollution, destruction of the balance of nature, over-population, world-wide economic and political disorder, and the creation of an overall environment that is neither physically nor mentally healthy for most of the people to live in."

In his best-selling book The Tao of Physics, physicist Fritjof Capra says:

 "Our tendency to divide the perceived world into individual and separate things and to experience ourselves as isolated egos in this world is seen as an illusion [in the East] which comes from our measuring and categorising mentality."5

Mankind has enormously suffered this conflict between science and spirituality. A person cannot ride a bicycle if one of its wheels is missing. Time has now come for both science and spirituality to widen their thinking horizons and realise the importance of their alliance, since the future of mankind rests on their combined insight and wisdom. How could this be achieved? Sri Aurobindo provides an answer. He says:

"Only by an extension of the field of our consciousness or an unhoped-for increase in our instruments of knowledge can this ancient quarrel be decided."6

 One of the aims of the "Yug Nirman mission" is to integrate science and spirituality, which is being attempted at its research wing, Brahmavarchas Research Centre at Haridwar (India). The results of experiments on this front show that spirituality has a sound scientific basis and spiritual principles practiced in daily life yield extraordinary benefits. Further research on this theme will be carried out at the newly founded Dev Sanskrati Vishwavidyalaya (Divine Culture University)7at Hardwar.

 Notes and References:

1. Panca Tatvas: The five basic elements of the gross manifestation of Nature. Namely, prithvi (solid matter on or inside the earth), jala (water, liquids and fluidic substances), vayu (air and gaseous elements), agni (source of fire and energy) and akasha (the subliminal etheric expansion).

2. Ghose, Sri Aurobindo (1970). The Life Divine. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry. p.9.

3. ibid., p.10.

 4. Bohm, David (1995). Wholeness and the Implicate Order. Routeledge, London. p.1-2.

5. Capra, Fritjof (1992). The Tao of Physics. Flamingo, London. p.29.

 6. Ghose, Sri Aurobindo (1970). The Life Divine. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry. p.20.

7. See the article "Dev Sanskrati Vishwavidyalaya � A University�." In this issue

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