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Articles from Pre-1998 Issues 

Spirituality and the Scientific Temper

by A. K. Parimoo

From time immemorial man has been striving to unravel the mystery of life; he has beev very eager to know, for sure, if there is God and, if the answer is in the affirmative, he would like to know what God is like. The inquisitive among men want to be clear in their minds as to what the terms 'absolute' and 'infinite' precisely signify. In fact, many questions such as these have been exercising man's mind for ages. Since his intellect is limited, he cannot comprehend what is the ever-lasting source of the energy that holds this universe-including the stars, planets and galaxies in a state of equilibrium. He cannot fully explain how and why the heavenly bodies, such as the planets rotate around their axis and revolve in their orbits, precisely how these motions are possible at all. It is not still known how much matter is consumed in the sun, that provides heat and light to the globe, to produce the inexhaustible energy which sustains our life. No doubt, the great scientist Newton discovered the law of gravitation as a physical phenomenon, but beyond this he could say nothing about the ultimate cause of the universe. He could not explicate its 'grand design' of which gravitation is only a small manifestation. There are innumerable other phenomena that are still either unknown or unintelligible to man.

Man has made innumerable compounds out of the120 elements available in Nature, but he has not been able so far to create a single element. Realizing this limitation of man; scientists have plainly acknowledged that "matter can neither be created nor destroyed by any known chemical or mechanical means." Despite the great achievements that science has to its credit, its limitations are manifold that cannot be brushed aside. No scientific theory formulated to this day is flawless and unchallengeable. The great Newton, who made a significant contribution to calculus, a branch of Mathematics, could not say anything definitive about what he understood by the term 'absolute zero'.

All that he could postulate was the term 'limiting zero or O, which he made use of in finding differential coefficients (dy/dx) of various trigonometric functions and algebraic quantities. On the other hand, the great yogeshwar of the 14th century, Lal Ded, has said something revealing and significant about the concept of 'nothingness' in the Vaakh given here which is followed by mine English translation:

goras prutchom saasilatey,
Yath na kenh vannaan tath kyah naav,
Pritchaan pritchanna thachist lususas,
Kehn nata kenh-manza kyah thaam draav
A thousand times did I ask my guru:
"How do we perceive that which hath no name?"
Making persistent enquires, I got exhausted,
The pursuit brought forth a positive result
What had seemed nothing yielded something significant. From this verse, we infer that although Lal Ded had no formal or technical knowlede of what 'Zero' stands for mathematically, she makes a profound statement about the origin of life and this universe. It is from 'Zero' or 'nothing' that a significant form emerged, which we perceive as the vast universe comprehending great variety and multiplicity. The verse has several over-tones conveying alternative meanings. It can thus also be interpreted to mean that Lalla's contemplation of 'Zero' was rewarded with spiritual knowledge consisting in something ineffable, that can only be experienced but not precisely communicated. Isn't it remarkable too, that the mighty 'mountain' of Mathematics, whose peak is yet beyond reach, stands on the very foundation of the inconceivable 'Zero'?

It is to be conceded that medical science has made great strides in the present century in as much as vital organs such as the kidney and heart are successfully being transplanted today.

Yet in no laboratory to this date have medical scientists been able to 'manufacture' a vital or any other organ of man or of any other creature. The truth is where all our empirical knowledge ends, there surely the domain of spirituality begins. No one can dispute the fact that scientists are still prowling on the outskirts of Truth, that continues to elude them.

There is, however, an interesting dimension to scientific and the spiritual. We may characterize this as science-based spirituality. What is today known popularly as Kriya Yoga provides a fine illustration of the synthesis in question. It is a simple psycho- physiological method by which human blood is re-oxidized. By reoxidizing his venous blood, the yogi is able to prevent the decay of his tissues (made up of cells). It is being claimed that an advanced yogi, like Maha-avtar Babji, transforms cells into energy. He can, at will, materialize and dematerilize at any place. This has been an ancient yogic practice that Lord Krishna is believed to have revived and taught Arjuna. Later, the knowledge of Kriya Yoga passed on to Patanjili, the founder of the prevailing system of yoga in India. It has evoked considerable scientific curiosity in America. Some American scientists are engaged today in discovering the practical effects of non- breathing. Investigations are on to see it non- breathing exercises can be prescribed for achieving longevity and for preserving youth.

So we see that though science and spirituality are distinct from each other, there is no inherent conflict between them. It seems possible and is perhaps desirable too, to integrate them to the extent possible, at least to make them function alongside each other as complementary disciplines. Just as it is possible to humanize science it is equally possible to give science a spiritual basis. There are definite signs of the initial moves being made in this direction in some of the western countries like America.
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