International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Science, Spirituality and the Modernization of India

edited by Makarand Paranjape

Introductory Essay by V. V. Raman

We live in an age in which the raw power of science and its applications tend to marginalize the doctrinal claims of religions. In the Indian/Hindu tradition, underneath the joy of worship, there is a deep spiritual undercurrent. This book explores the role and relevance of science and spirituality in modern India.

The book opens with comments from the Dalai Lama who famously declares that from the Buddhist perspective, “if scientific findings go against our preconceived notions or the claims in Buddhist scripture, we have no problems in rejecting the latter” [xix]. If all religions took this stand there would surely be no science-religion confrontation.

In the opening chapter the editor, Makarand Paranjape, spells out the hope of many that “we are on the brink of a global renaissance which requires the introduction of not just Western and Eastern cultural and civilizational resources, but the coming together of  science and spirituality” [13].

In this anthology of papers presented at a conference, the variety of topics and perspectives reveal the complexity and the challenge that arise when science and spirituality interact in the modern world. We are reminded of the Upanishadic doctrine of two kinds of knowledge, worldly and transcendental (pará and apará) [18]. Interpolated among the theme-related papers are reflections on an eminent Muslim scholar and his inspiration to modernize South-Asian Muslims. There follows an informed appraisal of J. C. Bose who was “the first Indian to make a mark in the domain of science” [79]. A paper on Sri  Aurobindo and Krishnachandra Bhattacharya re-examines the old dichotomy of materialism and spiritualism. Bhattacharya rejected Western philosophical divisions between matter and spirit and also Aurobindo’s synthetic stance. Next there are reflections on Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin, not only in the context of evolution but also in the context of notions of chaos, complexity and emergence. The reflections raise questions like, “Could a term like omega, supermind, attractor, or another word chosen by the world community, represent a reality which is drawing upward, forward, inward?” [132].

Next there is an elaboration of Gandhi’s thesis to the effect that “a scientist and a spiritually motivated seeker will both pursue Truth – the former does so in order to maximize human comfort and abolish external pain and miseries; the latter does so in order to experience the spiritual oneness or unity of being through Swaraj (self-rule) and satyagraha (soul and truth force)” [136]. Not many scientists may agree with these said motivations for doing science but that is irrelevant here.

After this is a paper that suggests that the traditional (puranic) yugas, or ages of time, with figures of the order of several million years, arose from misunderstandings of primary texts. It is pointed out that the correct figures have astronomical significance. The next paper examines how Sri Aurobindo “extended the concept of evolution as enunciated by Charles Darwin to consciousness and being (personality)” [162]. Other chapters discuss spirituality and Ayurveda, micro-sensing by Indian mystics, faith beyond the laboratory, practical spirituality, and “the grey zone between psychoses and spirituality” [255].

This book provides a rich tapestry of science and spiritually mainly seen from the perspective of scholars from the Hindu tradition.