Deepmala 46 – Vedanta and Science

I have written in this column about the bridges between our traditional technological knowledge (including the ancient one) and also modern science. Let me address the issue of the relationship of ancient Indian philosophy with the modern world of science and technology. Science today collectively represents, in some ways, the high watermark of human quest. Science that has been developed now over the last 300 years, particularly post-Einsteinian science, is looking outward to the reality that is around us, and is trying to find out as to what is ultimately behind our material existence. Science is never satisfied with things just as they are. So science, in the broader sense, is an enquiry into the material world, which is outside us. Similarly, our Upanishads and Vedanta are an enquiry into the inner reality within us.

Who are we? What is the basic entity within us? What is it that motivates my consciousness? These basic questions have been addressed by Vedanta. If we search hard enough, a great deal that is common between science and the Vedanta can be found. Science asks ‘What is it’? Vedanta asks ‘who am I’? During the Newtonian-Cartesian-Marxist paradigm, the dualistic science that dominated human life for four centuries was at the very opposite pole to philosophy. Not so, any longer. Some scientists are now coming round to the Vedantic view that consciousness is in fact probably the primary entity, which is the basis of matter.

Conceptually, intellectually and philosophically, the quest embodied in science is not contradicted by Vedanta. When you could not travel more than 10 miles a day, the seers of the Upanishads had the vision of transcending time and space. This vision has been concretized in this age of supersonic jets and space travel, and now technologically, you can see the unity of the human existence. You can physically see the world from outer space. So not only have science and technology not negated Vedanta, but have in some ways confirmed the Vedantic view.

One of the basic Vedantic concepts is that there is a single force that pervades the entire Universe, whether at the atomic level, or in the billions upon billions of galaxies in the Universe. Now if you look, not as a scientist, but as a layman, the quest for the single unified field theory, for a single force, that is behind all manifested and objective phenomena, is also a part of science. So this concept of a single force pervading the entire universe in some ways also reinforces the Vedantic view of the all pervasive Brahman.

Why do we need philosophy? Philosophy is not only for philosophers. Philosophy is some thing, which every human being needs. A philosophy, which would bring about harmony and peaceful coexistence; a philosophy, which should work for the welfare of the many, the happiness of the many; a philosophy for welfare of the entire planet. Our prayers, for example, are not just for ourselves, or even for the human race. They include plants, rivers, fields, mountains and animals. Now all these modern environmental concerns, which are now coming up were already included in Vedanta. Environmental values have been built into the structure of our thought, both religious and philosophical.

As we can see, whether it is environmental values, whether it is inner faith values, whether it is peace and harmony among people – you can get all these values from Vedanta. We must interpret Vedanta creatively in the light of the present day living. We can then strengthen these life giving values and emerge as a more vibrant and stronger nation.