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|| आ नो भद्राः क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वतः || Let nobel thoughts come to us from everywhere, from all the world || 1.89.1 Rigveda ||
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SCIENCE AND RELIGION
 
Fritjof Capra, Rupert Sheldrake, Karl Pribram and other scientists explained that new research in physics, biology, neurology and other subjects clearly pointed to a convergence between ancient wisdom and modern science.

By MARIA WIRTH




When I was in high school in Germany, I had a recurring phantasy. I imagined that some fine day the anchor in the news broadcast announces that science has found proof that God exists. This was at a time when doubts started creeping in whether it was true what I had believed so strongly in childhood, and such an announcement, I felt, would settle the issue once for all.

This was in the 1960s, when science made great strides for example in space exploration. Yuri Gagarin, the first astronaut in space, allegedly said after returning to earth that he had not seen any God out there. His statement did not carry too much weight, as he was Russian, and we Germans generally did not trust any Russian during the height of the cold war…

Still, for those of us who knew a little about history and were interested in science, ‘religion’ – which meant Christianity in Germany – came under scrutiny and did not come out of it unscathed. My elder sister was one of the first in our small town who rejected officially her membership in the Church, undoubtedly influenced by her husband who did so as well. My mother was very concerned – not so much that my sister would now burn in hell for all eternity, but what ‘the people will think’. I, only 15 at that time, got the message not to follow suit.

It was a big dilemma. I intuitively believed in God, a supreme, all-mighty Being, that is the cause of our existence and somehow ‘knows’ what we think, feel and do, but I could not reconcile what religion told me about this God. I could not believe that he is so unfair, even cruel, that he would let me burn forever in hell only because I had skipped Sunday mass.

The fear of hell had been real for me as a child. I had skipped Sunday mass once when I was 9 years old and was terrified that I could die before I had confessed my ‘sin’ to the priest. I was sure that in that case, I would go straight into hellfire. (Skipping Sunday mass was a cardinal sin for Catholics at that time with hell as punishment).

Now, being older, this fear had left me. Eternal hell after a life of a few years simply did not make sense. This claim seemed rather a tool to frighten people into falling in line with the doctrine. Furthermore, why would the creator of all human beings punish the majority of them with hell because they believed in another religion? Why did this God not let everyone be born in a Christian family if he wants everyone to believe in the Bible? Or be born into a Muslim family if he wanted all to follow the Quran?

It did not make sense and I was not interested anymore in religion, even more so when I read in the library of my uncle, who was a priest, about the violent history of the Church and its suppression of scientific knowledge. Can anyone imagine the pain of a scientist who knew for sure that the earth goes around the sun but had to keep quiet because it was politically incorrect to have such a (correct) view? How painful must it have been for Galileo for example to realize that the Church was the sole arbiter of what is true, even if it is clearly not true?

Fortunately, courageous men like Voltaire and others struggled hard and succeeded to restrict the power of religion. Secularism was introduced, blasphemy laws repealed, and now science flourished in Europe. However, there was no connection to religion. Religion did not foster science. Science flourished in spite of religion, not because of it. Or did it?

Here, maybe we should finally define ‘religion’.

Strangely, there is no clear-cut definition. The common denominator is usually that religion is about the belief in and worship of the Divine, God or whatever name one wants to give it.  Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism are the major religions. Minor ones are Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, etc. Yet why are all these different traditions put into one basket and called ‘religion’? Is this justified?

‘Religion’ comes from Latin and means ‘to bind’. It was first used for the Catholic Church. Later, when the Turks were at the gates of Vienna, Islam was also called ‘religion’.

Why was a new term introduced? Was the term Christianity not clear? It surely was as it referred to the followers of Christ. What else needed to be conveyed? To what had the follower of Christ to be bound?

Since Christianity and Islam both have fixed doctrines contained in certain books and both claim that only their doctrine is true and whoever does not believe this will burn in hell, it can be safely assumed that the term religion indicated that the followers were bound to the exclusivist doctrine of Christianity or Islam respectively – over many centuries even at the threat of death if they tried to loosen the bond. They had to ‘religiously’ stick to the tenets given by the clergy, like going to mass on Sunday or praying five times a day at specified times.

In exchange for this loyalty to the doctrine, the believers were left in peace from blasphemy laws and promised heaven after death. Further they were assured that they are on the ‘right’ path when there are ‘wrong’ paths as well. In short, God loves them, but not the others.

Where does Hinduism fit in in this scenario? Actually, it doesn’t fit in. It does not bind its followers to a fixed doctrine. It not only allows a free enquiry but encourages it. No blind belief in unverifiable dogmas is demanded. Yet in the 19th century, the term religion was now used for the ancient traditions from India, China and Japan, as well. And intriguingly, all those traditions got an ‘ism’ added: Hindu-ism, Buddh-ism, Tao-ism, Jain-ism…

Usually an -ism is associated with a narrow doctrine, developed by one person like Marxism, Stalinism, Maoism or has otherwise a negative image like Nazism or “Islam-ism”, which is meant to be seen as different and worse than Islam. That Juda-ism, which always was at the receiving end of Christianity and Islam, also got an –ism just would confirm that the –ism is not as ‘noble’ as the ending of the two “only true” religions.

Did the west try to obfuscate the fact that the Eastern traditions, foremost of all the Indian, had profound philosophies at their core and portray them also as ‘belief-systems’ with unverifiable dogmas at their core? For millennia these eastern traditions have lived harmoniously together without fighting each other but rather debating each other, in stark contrast to Christianity and Islam.

One thing is clear: Christianity/ Islam on one side and India’s traditions on the other are two very different categories:

One group makes unverifiable claims about the truth, demands blind belief in those claims and threatens with dire consequences, while the other group freely enquires into the truth by inner exploration, debates, guided by the ancient texts and saints who had experienced being one with all.

For one group the goal of life is to reach heaven and avoid hell after death by religiously sticking to the doctrine which is taught. The other group sees the goal in realising the blissful truth that we are one with all in the depth of our own being while we are alive.

One group depends on conversion and indoctrination to gain followers, while Hinduism is Sanatana (eternal) Dharma (righteous way of living).

Every Christian or Muslim had forefathers who were not Christians or Muslims. At the start, often the sword was used to convert, as the ‘truth’ of the dogmas was not self-evident and even went against common sense. Later, indoctrination of children and blasphemy laws kept the followers subdued.

The reason why conversion is necessary for the dogmatic religions is simple:

Suppose a community on some island is completely unconnected to the modern world. They will never become Christians or Muslims because they need to be told a story from the past about God sending his only son to earth 2000 years ago, or about Allah sending Mohammed as his last prophet some 1400 years ago.

Yet if these islanders deeply enquired into what is true and how to live a righteous life, they might come to similar conclusions like Sanatana Dharma, as it does not depend on some event in history. It requires deep enquiry into That what truly is – eternally.
Yet let me go back to my personal discovery of a connection between science and ‘religion’.

Meanwhile, I had stopped going to mass. When I told it to my mother, her reaction was, “And what if you go to hell?” “I won’t go to hell”, I replied. If there is a God, he surely won’t be so petty-minded to insist on a specific way of worshipping him. I also had had some inkling that indeed, there may be a God. An article on modern physics had explained that all is basically one energy and the different forms in this world are not really solid or separate entities. Strangely, this made sense and I felt: If there is a God then that one energy must be him.

Yet in the 1970s, we students at Hamburg University were so ‘modern and progressive’ that we would have rather bitten our tongues than admit that we believed in God. Yet it was ok to be interested in Buddhism or Transcendental Meditation (TM) or Bhagawan Rajneesh, as Osho was called then.

I even took initiation into TM. The Beatles had paved the way. I loved those 20 minutes of meditation in the morning and evening. Yet there was a lot of negative reporting in German newspapers about TM at that time. The Church had set up commissioners for sects, and warned one can go mad by meditating. Parents were asked to keep an eye on their children so that they don’t fall prey to the brainwashing of those sects. Maybe, this negative propaganda had its influence because I stopped meditating after two years.

Even more than TM, the Hare Krishna ‘sect’ was demeaned and ridiculed by the media. Their followers were portrayed as weird, mad chaps. Hinduism already had a bad image. I had learnt in primary school that it was about a terrible caste system and untouchables. Now the media did their best to make it look even worse.

In December 1979 I planned to go to Australia with a stopover in India. This stopover became a turning point in my life. It lasted meanwhile 37 years. The reason why I stayed on in India ironically was because of the much maligned Hinduism. I realised the amazing depth and breadth of Hinduism and wondered, why it was portrayed so wrongly as a primitive, oppressive religion when it is actually the best option for mankind. The Dalai Lama said that India has great potential to help the world. He is right and the negative propaganda in the west is wrong. Hinduism is least dogmatic and closest to the truth. If it binds at all, it binds or rather unites (yog) the individual with the Divine.

Back to my stopover. I visited the southern tip of India, Kanya Kumari. A little off the coast on a huge rock, there is a memorial for Swami Vivekananda. At a bookstall there, I bought ‘Jnana Yoga’. I had not heard of Swami Vivekananda, but wanted to learn about Indian thought while in India.

Swami Vivekananda had swum to this rock to meditate in December 1892. His guru, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, had died in Calcutta six years earlier. The young man had realised that under British rule his countrymen had purposely been cut off from their culture. He wanted to wake them up, give them back their self-respect and pride in their Hindu tradition.

On this rock, he decided to participate at the World Congress of Religions in Chicago in 1893, and present Advaita Vedanta, one of the highest flowerings among the different Indian philosophical systems. Advaita Vedanta is explained in the Upanishads, the last part (=anta) of the Vedas, and postulates that essentially, everything is a Whole (a-dwaita = not two).

Swami Vivekananda became the star of the World Congress. He got a standing ovation, and was asked to give a lecture tour in the US. He was sought after by influential persons, including scientists like Tesla. But the Christians went after him. In his own words at a lecture at the Victoria Hall in Madras after coming back to India:

“There is not one black lie imaginable that the Christian missionaries did not invent against me. They blackened my character from city to city, poor and friendless though I was in a foreign country. They tried to oust me from every house and to make every man who became my friend my enemy. They tried to starve me out.”

Why did the Christians do this? Did they fear that people realise that Advaita Vedanta makes far more sense than their dogmatic belief-system?

I read ‘Jnana Yoga’, and it was fascinating. Swami Vivekananda expressed clearly what I vaguely had felt to be true. For example that all is interconnected or rather: ONE. Everything in this creation including ourselves is permeated by the same great intelligence, like waves are permeated by the same ocean. The waves may be convinced that they are separate from the ocean as they have a distinct form and name. But ultimately all the waves are nothing but the one great ocean and nothing is lost when their form is lost. Similarly, though we may consider our person as separate from others, in truth we are the one consciousness and nothing of substance is lost when form and name are lost.

Further, Swami Vivekananda claimed that the so called reality is not really real. It is a sense deception, in a similar way, as at dusk a rope is mistakenly seen as a snake, even though in reality there is only a rope. Truly true, he claimed, is our inner being (Atman) that permeates everything and makes all appearances miraculously shine forth. It is infinite, eternal. It is not an object that can be seen with the eyes or thought of with the mind.

“Brahman is not what the eyes can see but That whereby the eyes can see. Brahman is not what the mind can think but That whereby the mind can think…” declares the Kena Upanishad. It is however possible to be Brahman. Rather, we are it already – “Ayam Atman Brahman” (the individual consciousness is one with the universal consciousness) is one of the Mahavakyas (great uttarances)  of Vedanta.

Now this ocean analogy of all being one sounded almost like that article on modern physics which I had read in high school. How come? Did the scientists discover this independently or were their theories inspired by the Vedas? Had the scientists reflected on the profound insights of the Indian rishis?

Indeed this had been the case. The great scientists who were responsible for replacing Newton’s paradigm of a universe full of separate ‘things’ with an interconnected, homogeneous Whole were inspired by Vedanta: Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Pauli, Einstein, Oppenheimer, Tesla and others, all knew about and reflected on India’s ancient wisdom.

The Church was surely not amused that the brightest brains in the Occident endorsed Indian wisdom and she might have schemed to blacken this image by teaching schoolchildren all over the world that ‘Hinduism’ means a bad caste system and sinful idol worship. I heard already in primary school about ‘untouchables’ which left a lasting, negative impression about Hinduism. The Brahmins, it was claimed, were the worst. Little did I know then, that the Brahmins had taken great pains to memorize and preserve the Vedas for posterity, and the atrocities of the caste system come nowhere near the atrocities by Christians and Muslims in the name of their god.

In 1982, an international conference on the “convergence of ancient wisdom and modern science” was held in Bombay and I wrote about it for a German magazine. The program for the conference explained that India was purposely chosen as the venue as the scientific theories propounded were based on ancient Indian insights. This was as explicit as it could get: Indian wisdom helped scientists to formulate their theories.

Fritjof Capra, Rupert Sheldrake, Karl Pribram and other scientists explained that new research in physics, biology, neurology and other subjects clearly pointed to a convergence between ancient wisdom and modern science. Scientists, while searching for the substance of things, had stumbled upon a homogeneous ONE energy. Matter and energy are interchangeable and the three dimensional space and the linear time have become the four dimensional space-time–continuum that is beyond human imagination. There are no separate objects or separate existences. Everything is related and is in perpetual movement. Fritjof Capra likened it to Shiva Nataraj – the dancing Shiva.

So it was now scientifically approved that our senses deceive us and that nothing that the senses perceive truly exists –in tune with the ancient Indian concept of Maya. And science is considered as the highest authority regarding the truth. Is this view justified?

Psychology also got a major facelift at the conference thanks to transpersonal psychology. It was a new branch that was based on the Hindu concept of Atman – the transpersonal or transcendental essence in all human beings. The core of Vedanta are the four Mahavakyas of the Upanishads, which proclaim that Atman (the individual consciousness) is one with Brahman (the universal consciousness), like in “Ayam Atman Brahman”.

Finally Sanatana Dharma got its due, I felt. The comforting knowledge of unity would surely not stay only in the heads of some scientists but would influence the lives of the common people. After all, according to Hinduism, the goal of life is to realise what we truly are – not a separate person but Satchitananda, – blissful awareness.

My optimism was wrong.

If anything, there were even greater attempts to hide the profound philosophy and the contribution of India to science since the early 1980s and to prevent the common man from appreciating the Hindu way of life.

Let’s take transcendental psychology. At the conference in 1982, Swami Muktananda gave a presentation of the non-dual tradition of Kashmir Shaivism. The participants were taken to his ashram in Ganeshpuri. It was not made a secret that he was the guru of Christina and Stanislav Groff, who organised the conference on behalf of the Association of Transpersonal Psychotherapy.

Yet today, in the internet age, Wikipedia says about “transpersonal psychology” at the start:

“Amongst the thinkers who are held to have set the stage for transpersonal studies are William James, Carl Jung, Robert Assagioli and Abraham Maslow.  Commentators also mention the psychedelic movement, the psychological study of religion, parapsychology, and the interest in Eastern spiritual systems and practices, as influences that shaped the early field of transpersonal psychology.”

Not a word about India. Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism, which deserved to be mentioned before all other contributors, is missing. The long Wikipedia piece ends with a revealing remark:

“According to Cunningham, transpersonal psychology has been criticized by some Christian authors as being “a mishmash of ‘New Age’ ideas that offer an alternative faith system to vulnerable youths who turn their backs on organized religion (Adeney, 1988)”.

Those Christian authors do not offer arguments to rebut the new (ancient) theory of a transpersonal self but call it names: “mishmash of new age ideas”. They fear that vulnerable youth turn their back on organised religion.

Why do they threat this scenario? Obviously they do not even try to evaluate whether the ‘I’-feeling could indeed be transpersonal and the same in all: whether the new theory could be closer to the truth is not an issue for them. Loyalty to the ‘revealed truth’ overrides it. The mind is stuck in a straitjacket.

A pious Christian cannot allow himself to think freely. The Christian doctrine is the unquestionable truth for him. Of course this applies not only to authors but also to scientists. There may be self-censorship regarding the theories they propose.

Can a pious Christian archaeologist even consider that human civilisation started millions of years ago? How would he explain that God sent the Bib

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