Saturday, October 25, 2008

Philosophy and Science

Philosophy and Science

"Is this concept scientific ?"

I have been seeing and hearing this above question ever since I started attending school. This validating has reached such a frenzy that even religious concepts are no exception. In fact, in today’s India, religion is the first thing to be questioned.

We note that it is philosophy that is questioned since it is what makes up a religion. Is this process of validation correct ? Is philosophy below science or above it ? Let us see here.


What is science ? Science is the description of naturally occurring phenomena and of comparing the same with universal laws (like law of gravity, law of motion, etc)


Philosophy is the understanding of life, the relationship between man and the creation, finding the answers to some eternal questions like, “why am I born?” , “why am I made this way ?” “why are people not equally born ?” “ why is there so much pain in this world ?” etc and so on.


In the eighteenth century, there arose a movement in Europe, that asked for scientific proof for everything proposed including science. The Industrial Revolution had started and people thought that they had to be scientific in whatever they did. For example, the biblical theory of creation in 4004 BC was put to severe questioning and discarded. This is on the realm of mythology. But philosophy also was put to the same test.

The most suffered concept was of God Himself. Science was throwing postulates after another in the form of Big Bang theory, nebula theory and so on and was denying the concept of a creator God. Added to this was the theory of evolution which said that every organism had the capacity to evolve and suggested the possibility of evolution from a single celled organism.

Science or Philosophy ?

The plight of the common man was understandable. He was driven to despair in knowing that the religion he dearly loved is no longer scientific. He pondered over what may be truth. I was also one of such people. My convictions steadied once I saw through the history of science.

What was consistent in the history is that there have been a spate of theories one criticizing another and superseding it. The atomic concept of Dalton is no longer valid now. Newton’s laws of motion are no longer universal since Einstein proved the theory of relativity and showed that a moving clock indeed runs slower.

What do all the above indicate ? It is, that science is still on its way to finding the secrets of creation and CANNOT be in a position to decide whether a religious concept is correct or not. In other words, science itself is in evolution towards perfection.

In the 18 th century Europe, Micael Faraday loathed the term ‘scientist’ and wanted to be called as ‘natural philosopher’. Why ? The answer is, till that time, science was considered part of philosophy. It was only after that period that the scientist started to look down upon philosophy.

The greatest drawback in scientific enquiry is that it is an utter flop in matters regarding purpose of life on earth ,the reasons for creation, and the intelligent design of life on this universe. These are BIG questions of life and till date science has never even tried to answer them.

And the tragedy was that the Christian led primitive theories were simply not able to stand the scrutiny of scientific enquiry.

Christian Philosophy and science:

Christianity, with its God in heaven theory, cut a sorry figure. Swamy Vivekananda asked, if God is in Heaven , where is it ? If it is somewhere in this Universe , then you must be suggesting that the heaven is occupying space.

Whatever occupies space is matter. Matter is subject to change. It means birth and death. So the Heaven and God must be subject to birth and death. They become limited, which is absurd.

Their satan theory was far worse. The satan meant that there was another force (and in turn energy) independent of God, thus making God limited. Anything limited is not absolute and hence God , according to the semitic theories, becomes limited.

Einstein proved that the sum total of all energies in this universe at any point of time is the same. The semitic religions never could explain what happens when a man dies. They propagate the concept that this man himself is the spirit. When the creation is one man short, what happens to this universal energy balance ? Does this energy go to God ? And their God in Heaven must be so heavy with all the souls’ energy since the time of creation !

Hindu Philosophy:

On the other hand Hinduistic philosophy answered all questions effectively. Sankara’s advaita shines like a brilliant star among the religious postulates of the world. Sankara said ‘there are no two’. It means, creation and creator are not different. The name of ‘sachhidananda’ (sat-chit-ananda) meaning existence- conciousness- bliss for God is so apt. It means there is existence for none other than this trio of existence – consciousness- bliss.

There is a Vedic Hymn which reads


Purnamada: purnamidam purnAt purnamudachyate |

Purnasya purnamAdAya, purnameva avasishyate ||

(Om. That is whole. This is whole. From the whole (this) whole emerges. Even after (this) whole emerges from (that) whole, the whole alone remains.)

There is oneness only. No two. Such is the depth and subtlety of Hindu Philosophy.

Also the theory of reincarnation has fantastically explained why there will be energy balance even after death.

Science or Philosophy- which is superior ?

The God theory has one extraordinary condition. Many thinkers attained a stage from where they claim they have unravelled the secrets about themselves, God and creation in general. But without exception they all declared that that experience is beyond the human faculties of senses, mind and intellect !

But people still harp on science being the ultimate judge even in the realm of spiritual philosophy. Swamy Vivenakanda declared thus

“ When that energy from which al the energies of the universe emanate, is found, then all study in Physics will come to a close”

“When that substance is known, from which every other substance is made, Chemistry attains its completion”

“When the source of all thought is found out, psychology will see its perfection”

“When that knowledge is known, knowing which everything is known, the quest of a Gnani is fulfilled”

(the last two are mine)

That endpoint is what Hindu Philosophy calls the “Godhead” or “Realisation”. Science , with its limited tools of inquiry, can scarcely dream of such things.

So what do we conclude ? That Science is Bigger than Philosophy ? It is just the reverse. Science is just a subset of Philosophy. This gives it a due place. That is also the great Indian tradition.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Religion and Spirituality

Religion and Spirituality

Of late, one thing I see quite often see making rounds in philosophical discussions is, the mix up between the words 'spiritual' and 'religious'. Do they denote the same ? Let us analyze here. What is Spirituality ? This will be discussed in the Indian context as it was here that the first seeds of spirituality was sowed at the dawn of creation. Spirituality can be explained as a person's journey into himself in pursuit of the secrets about his own self. This has resulted in the famous discovery by the Hindu Rishis of the 'Atman' (or the Self) many many millennia ago.

They saw, through a series of subtle processes called as yogic methods, that the Self was the dweller in the sheath of body with its paraphernalia of senses, mind,and intellect. The process of inner search was called saadhnaa and the end point was called as realization.
And What is Religion ? As the seeker refined and refined his search towards this realization, he saw that his own experiment can be replicated in others too. And the Rishi started teaching this to others. For this many lifestyle changes were necessary.

Also, the student needed to be put through a different routine of growth than he previously used to. Over a period of time, many such Rishis emerged in India . They all emphasized a lifestyle suitable to self realization. These set of guidelines were later famously called as religion. Religion is the practical expression of spirituality in life.

Religion and Spirituality- Is there a conflict ?

As we saw, spirituality is the terrain on which religion flourishes. The stronger the spiritual belief the stronger is the religion. The more refined the spirituality, the more refined the religion. The universal the spirituality, the universal the religion.

Where did the misunderstanding arise ?

Since time immemorial, there was only one spiritual theory and only one religion, that is of Sanatana Dharma or Arya Dharma or Vedic Dharma. They had its roots in Bharat that is India and spread its roots across the globe. Sanatana Dharma, which came to be called as Hinduism later, gave its valuable thoughts to Buddhism and Jainism. Buddhism later gave its ideals to Judaism and Christianity. Islam evolved out of Christianity and Judaism. So, there emerged many spiritual theories. The problem with emerging theories was that they confused religion with spirituality. There was no clear marking. I would even say that religion predated spirituality in the case of Christianity and Islam. They adjusted spirituality to adjust religious practices. For example, Christianity was born as a refined version of Judaism. But Judaistic religion predated them and as a result the hold of religion on matters of spirituality was great. In Al Qoran, one will see only a great deal of commands rather than descriptions of the Self. Notice that a way to a place is spirituality and religion is only a map. The rulers of those times in Israel and Europe found that spreading religion was more profitable than infusing spirituality. Thus was born the Church culture. In other words it meant every person had to be a churchist before he is christist. So religion took a front seat.

Not even that, religion was so inseparably mixed with spirituality that the Semitic religions became a mixture of these two. This can be told like this. If one is spiritual, he automatically HAS TO BE religious and vice versa. There was no escape. And the way to salvation was wholesale.
Sentences like "the Church is my body" as being said by Jesus were added to the Bible.
The Indian context:

The scene in Bharat was and is totally different. The way to realization, called yoga, saw each human being as unique with his/her own ideosyncracies . Thus Hindu Rishis had come to a bold, divine, unprecedented conclusion that " The path to Realization is Individual". This is the single, most brilliant , and mind boggling aspect of Hinduism.

As each individual has the freedom to explore his inner self, the aspect of religion became optional or irrelevant.
That is why you see intensely spiritual people in India, who have conquered their senses, mind and intellect who are totally devoid of any religious binding. India then became home to an enormous amount of Yogis who achieved the ultimate in their own unique ways without the bondages of religion. Kapila saw the oneness of the Self with the universe, Vyasa saw the Ultimate in Himself or rather saw himself in the Absolute, Sankara saw there was no two existences between the Absolute and the individual.

Kannappa Nayanar Saw God by his violent devotion, while the refined Appar saw him with a disciplined devotion.
Even atheism is a legitimate part of Hinduism. The Indian born Nobel laureate, Sri Chandrasekar, said, "I am a Hindu atheist". In no other religion does rebels get accommodated. The reason is Hinduism is a spiritual way first. Second is it is not God centred but has God as the ultimate achievable.

The Hindu can be spiritual without being religious and vice versa
. The Hindu also has a most beautiful religion, which is coloured by an endless array of cultures, distinguished by an equally endlessly different human varieties, flavoured by more than a hundred sweet languages.

The Hindu religion- will it reinvent itself ?

Since Hinduism showed such care to its individual member, and since each member continued to refine his ways to realization, Hinduism was never a rigid body of ideas. It has, over the period, shown an enormous ability to reform itself and evolve. All this was because Hinduism was born of an effort at free enquiry. For example, over two thousand years ago, Hinduism was totally different than the present one. Vedic thoughts reigned supreme. There were no temples. People worshipped the Absolute Brahman through Yagyas .

When this Vedism developed religious rigidity, great Rishis like Sankara, Maddhwa, Ramanuja, Appar, Sambandar and a host of saints gave a new way to Hinduism. When Buddhism had all but swallowed up the whole of India, Hinduism, invented itself anew. Thus was born the new Vedantic religion as envisaged by Sankara and others. Temples came up. Gita became a new beacon light in Hinduism. Hinduism, the resurgent, had such force that it absorbed Buddhism and Jainism into itself.
Over the period, there have been many unwanted flab like casteism that have crept into the religion. But as usual, the Hindu diaspora will shrug it off and march on, giving the world newer directions.

J Venkatasubramanian