From the Jacket
Hinduism is not just a religion. It synonymizes the five-millennia of India's cultural heritage, which is unequivocally manifest in the Hindus' architecture, sculptural art, music, mythology, Sanskrit literary classics, social institutions, and ethical/legal codes. And also in their complex philosophical systems addressing perpetually baffling questions concerning creation, existence, cosmic consciousness, reincarnation, and the like. Yet, ironically perhaps, not many know about the striking breakthroughs of Hindu sage in astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, metallurgy, and other ancient-time sciences leave alone a deficient awareness of the monumental treatises of Charaka, Aryabhatta, Bhaskara and Kautilya that still remain as landmarks in the scientific history.
Here is a book trying to highlight how Hinduism of yore: both in its motivations and methodology, laid the foundations of modern scientific quest. Drawing on the prodigious mass of Vedic/post-Vedic Sanskrit writings, the author focuses specially on some of the contemporary scientific ideas vis-à-vis the achievements of the old-world Hinduism in cosmogony, astronomy, meteorology and psychology. Contextually, Iyengar's book also unfolds the Hindu world views of creation, soul and determinism, among other fundamental philosophical concepts.
Discerning readers will find Hinduism and Scientific Quest as much a useful read as the scholars of traditional Indian philosophy and history of science.
T.R.R. Iyengar (born : 1962) is a freelance journalist and has keen interest in Hinduism and Hindu Philosophy.
Besides several contributory articles to the Encyclopaedia of Hinduism, Iyengar has also compiled The Hindu Mythological Dictionary and Dictionary of Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
Human endeavour since times immemorial has been an untiring search, a relentless effort to know the Ultimate which can be variously termed the Ultimate Reality, Ultimate Presence, Ultimate Consciousness, God, the Absolute, and so on. At the same time, thoughts, ideas, aspirations have persevered to lay hold of, discover the unknown answers to the many questions about life and living that have plagued the human mind and consciousness ceaselessly. Religion and Science, the twin disciplines of knowledge, have actually evolved and grown in and are an outcome of this undying human thirst to know, a thirst that is neither satiated nor allows itself to be ignored. These traditions, however are distinct in more than one way; throughout history, they have run a mostly parallel course in terms of their approach and methodology, among other things. It is, in actuality, undeniable that while the religious-philosophical doctrines and thoughts have embraced the idealist' approach that underlines the fundamentally spiritual character of reality and exalts the spirit over philosophical matter, western science and material philosophy on the other hand have espoused the 'materialistic' view and seen matter as the ultimate principle over spirit and mind. But here, it is worthwhile to view the contribution of that storehouse of spiritual-intellectual wealth called Hinduism. Hinduism's age-old contribution to human civilization and culture is by no means restricted to religious, cultural philosophical and spiritual traditions though it may seem so at first sight; it, in reality, embraces diverse fields and aspects of the scientific as well. Moreover, we find that the very thinking and approach that evolved the spiritual-philosophical truths immersed itself in the scientific exercise to conduct systematic analyses and emerge with new ideas, concepts and discoveries in the field of science.
All the universal truths, ideas, thoughts, that have come down to us from the Vedic times onwards and preserved to this day in their original essence are a repository of a range of deep, penetrating thoughts, a result of intense meditation and speculation to arrive at truths at various levels the material life and living, the realm of thoughts and the intellect, and at the level of the soul. Thus, in our Vedas, the Upanisadic treasure-vault of spiritual wisdom, and in the approach and ends of Vedanta, Samkhya and other sources of knowledge, it is not just the immediate needs and concerns of a religious life that are addressed; it is the human life and realm in their entirety that is discussed. They deal with a variety of topics that feature as essential components of scientific study and disciplines. The diverse nature of the scientific areas touched upon and the depth and range of the theories extended are simply astounding, even unfathomable at times. Unfortunately, though much has been written about Hinduism's cultural-spiritual contributions, very little has been done to bring to light its achievements vis-à-vis Science. This book "Hinduism and Scientific Quest" attempts to accomplish precisely this.
Herein, Hinduism's contribution to the scientific discipline or realm is studied with the intention to present a comprehensive, all-embracing picture. I have dealt with a wide spectrum of areas and varying issues from say, the cosmogony principles, no doubt, a broad topic, to something very specific such as use of science in warfare discussed in Hinduism's core texts and doctrines. Thus, developments in Hindu thought and traditions pertaining to various modern scientific disciplines Botany, Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Horticulture, Physiognomy, Weather Science, etc. have been traced. These are then compared and contrasted with modern scientific theories and findings. The chapters are arranged in such a manner so as to bring as much material as possible on Hinduism vis-à-vis the study of science and scientific disciplines within the book's scope. Our Vedic ancestors' the universe, earth, matter, spirit, soul, human life are thoroughly scrutinized for their scientific wealth. I have specifically underlined the significance of Advaita in modern science as it is not a single state of consciousness but a result of considering the totality of all knowledge I have also compared and analysed Science and Religion, as two distinct fields, in relation to one another. Eastern and modern scientific thoughts are discussed, at places, in general before delving into Hinduism's contribution itself and placing it in the right perspective.
I am indebted to all the standard works on the varied aspects of the subject from which ideas have been profusely drawn.
I have much pleasure in sincerely thanking Raja Ramanna and A. S. Ramanathan whose articles in The Hindu and Veda, the Word Eternal have proved extremely helpful to me.
Thanks are due to my innumerable friends and relatives for helping me in varied ways in completing the work. Last but not least, I have to acknowledge my gratitude to my parents (Thirumalai A.S. and Ambujam) who have rendered their ungrudging help and cooperation over the last few years and have aided me immensely in this work.
Immense thanks are due to the publishers M/s D.K. Printworld, but for whose untiring zeal, enthusiasm and tenacity, this work would have remained in my dreams only.
I shall consider myself well-rewarded if this book proves to be of great benefit to those for whom it is meant.
Criticisms and suggestions for improvement are welcome.
"The most beautiful and the most profound emotion we experience is the mystical." Declares Einstein, perhaps the greatest scientist of this age of science.
What, then, is this "mystical element", so highly eulogized by him?
"It is the source of all true science", is the emphatic answer of the same great scientist.
"Oh, science only?" One may be justifiably tempted to ask.
"Of all true happiness also", it must be answered, "for all of us who hanker after it."
But, as it is, its promise is much more than that. Its scope is all-comprehensive.
The unfailing source of all true humanitarian endeavour, of the exalted and transcendent feeling of oneness experienced by the sage and the man of wisdom, it is the source of intuition and perception of the yogi. It is also mirrored in the flash of genius in every field and walk of life. "Whatever in this world is of extraordinary caliber power, beauty and of any quality whatsoever is only invested with an infinitesimal particle of My glory", announces the Lord in the Gita.
It is an intense realization of this mystical presence that has led people, in all ages and climes, to face self-effacement and martyrdom in the name of God, country or scientific truth. An inadequate grasp of it has driven others to impose untold sufferings and persecutions on their fellow men. It is an irresistible urge to communicate to others, an exaltation in the touch of the beyond, a consciousness of the "supreme and living presence", that induced these fanatics to persecute others. It is a certain indefinable feeling of intimacy and identification which we, in the rarest moments of our lives experience in everything beside us. The seventeenth-century German philosopher Spinoza called it 'substance' or 'God'; the nineteenth-century scientist Ludwig Helobach proclaimed it to be nothing more than nature, the ancient Indian Vedanta variously termed it as Brahman, atma, sat or saccidananda or reality-consciousness, 'Bliss Absolute'. The reality that is one is variously named by the wise rsis.
Both science and religion, the temporal and the celestial pursuits of man, we are assured by the wise of our age, ultimately aim at this 'reality', though in different spheres. Science relentlessly pursues after it in the laboratory laboriously through experiment and minute observation of nature in all its aspects. Yet it only falters, nevertheless fortuitously "stumbling upon the rock of this truth". Religion grows ecstatic over it, feeling certain of its presence, through intuition and self-realisation. According to Vedanta and Modern Physics by Srimat Puragra Parampanthi, "Twentieth century science today touches the realm of Advaita Vedanta and shakes hands with the monistic idealism."
The general traditional approach to this fundamental and ultimate reality is twofold. One is the 'idealistic view', the belief that reality is fundamentally spiritual or mental, and that spirit existed prior to philosophical matter held by all religions and philosophical schools. The other is "materialistic view", the view that matter is the ultimate principle, and that spirit and mind are only a consequence of matter held by the early western scientists and all materialist philosophers.
All the religions of the world, barring Hinduism and Buddhism are purely monotheistic and authoritarian. They have only arrived at the oneness of God, and not yet of God and man, nor of God, man and the whole of creation. They explain the relationship of man to God by the belief that "man is made in the image of God", the very reverse of the doctrine of 'anthropomorphism'. And this is based on the theory of 'revelation' that the truth, is only revealed to the prophet and the original saints. Nor is there any place in this scheme for rational explanation of the workings of the 'world', except that it is the 'will of God' that things are so ordained in the universe.
Confucious is the only teacher who never talked about God and His mystic relation to man and creation, and only concerned himself with propagating "good conduct and the good of the world". Buddha is also said to be silent on metaphysical matters, but, we may be sure, he was only against the rituals of Hinduism. The great religion bearing his name, which prevails in half the world today, is not more than a secular movement of social reform aimed at Vedic sacrifice and ceremonies.
Philosophy, whether old or new, cannot be said to have solved this problem quite satisfactorily. The western philosophers of the last century and of India after the advent of Buddha and Sankara were all 'Idealist' believers in spirit as opposed to matter. Bergson's creative evolution is only a protest against the blind mechanism of struggle as propounded by Darwin. Elan Vital is the intuitive life-principle which perpetually evolves and creates new forms of activity and consciousness in man. It is still unable to comprehend his consciousness of divinity, though it did not prevent him from believing in God and a personal universe with life, consciousness and values emerging successively, making God only "the final result", "not the source and spirit creative of the Universe, present in the whole process as also its final goal". William James's, 'Radical Empiricism' and 'Pragmatism' only takes us to 'Materialism', 'Pragmatism', 'Sensationalism', 'Pluralism' and Ultimately to 'Naturalism'. Bertrand Russell is a "scientific humanist endeavouring to explain moral values and intuition in terms of evolution". He is a believer in "instinct", which makes him declare that "man's morals in the mass
do as much harm as they dare and as much good as they must. While to the man of Divine Realisation, to the one who has fully sublimated his human nature to the mystical presence, morals are only the means of achieving the highest and maximum good, minimizing if not totally eliminating evil.
It is claimed that the nineteenth-century scientists Darwin and Huxley established in their "theory of monistic materialism, the universal substance a substance with two forms, two aspects, a material and a spiritual at one and the same time, a substance of which matter and spirit are two components, seemingly a synthetic view no doubt; but as admitted by the claimants themselves, it only succeeded in solving", the deep abyss between the animal and the vegetable kingdom's by the discovery of the single cell 'protoplasm' and was yet unable to formulate the relation between organic and inorganic matter. The difference between life and non-life still remains a 'carefully guarded secret'.
With the advent of the nuclear theory in modern physics, the conception of matter, has no doubt, been totally revolutionised. From the concept of pure atoms and 102 elements of the last century, matter has now become "monistic", and is regarded as only a form of energy, a product of electrons and protons, which are the negative and positive units of electric charge. The electrons, which were thought formerly to consist of particles came to be considered later as consisting of both "Waves and particles". James Jeans observes:
A full discussion of these results made it clear that matter could not be interpreted either as waves or particles or even waves plus particles
which in some of its aspects reminds us of particles and in other remains us of waves.
He also says that matter and radiation may not constitute two distinct and non-interchangeable forms of waves. The two may be interchangeable, one passing into another. But Planck's theory, in the words of the same authority, "asserted that radiation was as atomic in its structure as matter." Added to it, Heisenberg's theory of indetertion, that the electron in complete isolation can never be known, asserts that by the very act of contacting the constituents of matter through some given media, the material condition of these constituents is disturbed. These mixed properties and this highly abstruse speculation about matter remind us of the theory of pancikarana in the Hindu Vedanta. According to it. Though there are five elements in nature water, earth, fire, air and ether, yet each element is only held as a compound of all the five elements in their original or pure state in certain propositions. Thus a unit of the earth element contains only half of pure earth with the other half made up of the other four elements, one-eighth each. If the particle property of the electron may be taken to be that of the earth element, the wave-property that of air or water or of both, and radiation that of fire, then the true nature of matter must lie somewhere between these elements, with the 'indeterminacy factor' to be attributed to the last element. Akasa, is regarded as their ultimate principle. And this akasa, which is regarded as the inferior or material aspect of Brahman or sat, the ultimate truth. If we are led to this conclusion by science, we are no less thankful to these scholars, who only arrived at their conclusions after the relentless search of truth, than to the philosophers and saints who reached the same conclusions in a different way.
We are thus forced to the conclusion that 'Reality' still remains one-sided, either as "monistic idealism" or monistic materialism without an integral comprehension of both. The ultimate reality as expounded by Dr. Radhakrishnan is "absolute idealism" with life emerging from matter, mind from life, the sense of values, or as the efficient and material cause of the universe. 'One sat', with life and non-life as only conscious and unconscious forces in one progressive evolution from atom to man and to his divine awareness, is not yet an established doctrine or proven fact either in religion, philosophy or science.
Einstein, in his not yet fully established "unified field theory" claimed to show that every form of nature planets, stars, electricity, light, the very particles inside the atom obey the same basic natural laws. But 24 pages of his equations which make up this theory are yet to be validated. Einstein and most of the present-day scientists are theists, believers in a supreme power of harmony and intelligence. They believe in God.
who reveals Himself in the orderly Gods harmony of the universe." Einstein.
"The material world, which has been taken for a world of blind mechanism, is in reality a spiritual world seen very partially and imperfectly." J.B.S. Haldane.
"The universe looks more like a great thought than like a great machine."- Jeans
"The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life." Einstein.
"Religion and natural science are fighting a joint battle in an incessant never-relaxing crusade against skepticism, against dogmatism, and against superstition; and the rallying cry in this crusade has always been, and always will be, On to God." Max Plank.
But even this grudging and limited comprehension of Reality is not a result of scientific research. It is a "process of conceptualization" belonging to the domain of philosophy "hard thinking and the bold sweep of imaginative power", and as even Einstein suggests "by giving free rein to imaginative flights processes closely resembling the intuitive Sadhana of the yogi which play a major part today in bridging the wise chasm between the scientific axioms and their verifiable consequences."
"The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life."
It is to the immortal glory and credit of B. Spinoza that he could glimpse this synthetic reality, this harmonious fusion of both matter and spirit a conception basically adopted by the modern scientists.
I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. Issac Newton.
I give myself over to my rapture. The die is cast. Nothing have ever felt before is like this. I tremble my blood leaps. God has waited 6000 years for a looker-on to His wisdom is infinite, that of which we are ignorant is contained in Him, as well as the little that we know. J.Kepler
Neither is mind material, nor is matter mental; neither is the brain process the cause, nor is it the effect of thought; nor are the two processes independent and parallel. For there are no two processes and two entities; there is but one process, seen now inwardly as thought, and now outwardly as motion; there is but one entity; seen now inwardly as mind, now outwardly as matter, but in reality an inextricable mixture and unity of both. Durant on Spinoza in Story of Philosophy.
Ancient Hindu culture as portrayed in the earlier Upanisad and the Vedas bears glorious and ample testimony to this view. The ultimate reality is expounded therein in two stage akasa as the end of all matter, and Brahman as the end of both matter and spirit, annum and prana as they are called. It is this mystic principle, sat or saccidananda as it is also designated which goes further than the materialistic view, and the substance or God of even Spinoza, and truly supplies the lost link between spirit and matter, between Godhead and Cosmic life, between the one and the many as "a vast Truth-conscious light, all-comprehensive, all originating, all-fulfilling" the consciousness that "sleeping in the stone, feels in the plant, senses in the animal, and thinks in man."
The sages of India, who comprehended the truth, had declared that the usual means of knowledge adopted in the field of science and art do not prevail here. As Reality is conceived to transcend both the physical and mental planes, means which enable one to go beyond the five senses and the mind are proposed to be employed. The faculty of the sixth senses intuition, 'self-revelation in utter silence' attainable by the power of purity aided by 'faith or grace' is invoked. Parampanthi observes: "As admitted, Einstein and other great scientists have only unconsciously adopted an amount of this very faculty, when they reached their extraordinary conclusion on natural phenomena." It is therefore, an ungrudging and unreserved adoption of the saccidananda in life displayed in the sublimation of the three principal faculties of man will, cognition and feeling; an organic and integral sadhana; a pure and detached life of service; a life of utter simplicity and devotion, that is imperative in the realisation of the sat the ultimate and final comprehension of both matter and spirit.
Every science is based on some postulate. The postulate of Hindu philosophy (particularly in Saiva philosophy) is that something cannot come of nothing or that something can become nothing. As something and nothing are incompatibles, the truth of this postulate will be easily conceded. If it is so easily accepted, it may be asked why it should be made a postulate. The reason is that there are others who admit the reality of the material universe, but maintain creation ex nihilo. The existence of such philosophies necessitates the enunciation of the postulate and the explanation of its implications.
The disappearance of water by evaporation or electrolysis, and the appearance of dew drops on leaves lead an ignorant man to the belief that something can become nothing an something can come of nothing. Similarly, the evolution of the universe, may be taken even by better informed people to be an instance of something becoming nothing and coming from nothing. To understand the involution and evolution of the universe it is enough to understand the processes of the evaporation and electrolysis of water. We know that, in neither case has water become nothing, but that it has turned into vapour in the one case, and into hydrogen and oxygen in the other. In both cases what really happens is only a change of relationship between the particles that go to make up the water. When it becomes vapour, the atoms that form the water molecules form molecules of their own. This is true of every kind of change in the universe. When the universe undergoes evolution, the relationship between the particles in it undergoes change, but things neither disappear altogether nor come from mere nothing. Saiva philosophy regards the world as something real and not as an illusion.
Since change takes place only in the relationship of the components of a substance, it follows that whatever has no components cannot undergo change. According to the old view of chemistry, an atom was indivisible and it was therefore not expected that an atom had components. In the year to come even these may be resolved into more minute components obtained by such ultimate analysis cannot have any further components and will not therefore be subject to any change. This leads us to the principle "that whatever is further unanalyzed cannot undergo any change." This is the first corollary of the postulate. Again, since there can be no change in them, they have always been and will always be what they are. That is, they are external. This gives us the second corollary of the postulate.
When a thing changes or becomes another it does so under the action of a force that produces the changing the relationship of its components. These force also are governed by the postulate of the existence of the material cause and of the efficient cause of every phenomena and are therefore essentially deterministic. The fundamental principles of this philosophy are derived from its postulate and the corollaries.
We may start with the assumption that the universe has been undergoing evolution. In the course of this evolution, living beings have been variously adapting themselves to varying environments. There must be a power in them which makes this variation possible. Again, the varying nature of the adaptation shows that the power is not mechanical, but intelligent. This power is called 'Religion'. It must be possessed by some intelligent being. This Being is usually called God. Since He leads all souls to perfection, he must be an all-loving Being.
The essence of all living beings is the soul. But there is difference of opinion as to what this essence is. Some attribute to the soul knowledge, desire and energy. Some postulate a free-will in addition to them. The soul so understood is an indefinite and complex conception and cannot therefore receive scientific treatment. If one man invests the soul with certain adjuncts and another man with other adjuncts, the two men use the same word to denote two different, things and cannot find means of agreement. The right course is to use the word to denote the essence of a living being, divested of all its adjuncts. It then becomes a single thing that cannot be analysed any further.
Since living beings are numberless, souls also are numberless. We see that a living being knows, desires and does. And to do. But we see that the knowledge of a living being, say a man, changes. This change must be due to the change in the quantity of the energy of knowing. Since the soul is an elementary being, it cannot undergo change
Therefore the energy of knowing is not a characteristic of the soul. Besides, if it belonged to the soul, it would be definite in quality and strength or degree and could never change. But we see that it does change. Therefore the power or the energy is not the soul's and must be supplied to it by something else. Just as an engine is a mechanism. That can move, but moves only power is supplied to it, so the soul has the ability to know, and begins actually to know only when the power of knowing is supplied to it. The desire of a living being also changes both in degree and in kind. Therefore the power of desiring cannot be the soul's. it can similarly be shown that the power of doing also is not the soul's so, we seen that the soul has the ability to know, to desire, and to do, but not the energy or power necessary for the activities. The energy must therefore be supplied to it by something else.
That which supplies the energy to the soul is called maya. It supplies not only the energy but also the tools necessary for using the energy, namely the physical and the mental powers. It also gives the soul embodied and mental power of the world to live in, and things in the world to enjoy. All the worlds are products of maya. These worlds are constantly undergoing change and are either in the process of formation or in the process of disintegration. In other words, they are evolving. The word maya itself means that which (ma=) involves and (ya=) evolves. The body, the mind, and the energy have all come from maya and are therefore ultimately not different from one another. As maya cannot be further resolved it must be eternal.
But the knowledge that the soul receives through the products of maya is limited and often leads either to doubt or to error. Just, as in dim light, a snake is mistaken for a piece of rope or is held is suspense as being either a snake or a rope, so, with the little knowledge that we derive through maya, we often mistake wrong for right or are in suspense regarding the true nature of a thing. This limitation of knowledge must be due to some other cause or factor.
This cause or factor is called anava. Anava constricts the souls abilities to know, to desire and to do, and does not allow energy to have its full scope. But certain products of maya exert a force in opposition to it and allow a gradually increasing flow of energy according to certain principles. When the soul gets a little knowledge, its become conscious of itself, identifies itself with the body, and commits endless blunders. The most pathetic feature of its blunders is that it is hardly ever aware of them. False pride is one the first products of little knowledge, but when a person is actuated by it he feels he is quite in the right The consequence is that the person does not realize for a long time that pride is his bitterest foe. Anava is thus the root cause of the soul's blunders and consequent misery. Maya gives limited knowledge through the senses and the intellect, and assists the soul in its struggle with anava.
The acts of the soul appear as thoughts, words, and deeds. Right actions are those that are good to the self and to other. Such acts naturally cause happiness. Wrong acts are those that are bad to the self and to others. As they break harmonious relationships, they cause pain. Right actions are sometimes accompanied by immediate pain; and though a wrong act may give immediate pleasure, it ultimately leads to misery. The pain and pleasure due to right deeds and wrong deeds respectively are not necessarily experienced immediately after the deeds are performed, but reach the soul as circumstances permit, sometimes much long after the deed. Murderers are sometimes arrested several years after the murder and then punished. The effects of these actions, manifested as pain and pleasure produce a tendency in the souls to prefer the right and avoid the wrong. This tendency is coupled with the knowledge received during the effects of anava. When anava is completely overcome, the soul becomes free ad reached the final goal.
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