Science and Spirituality and Pandemics
I am grateful to Spiritual Applications Research Center for inviting me to share my thoughts in this wonderful session on ‘Inner Tranquillity Leading Research for a Perfect World’.
It is a special privilege and honour indeed.
The topic that I have chosen for my talk today is Science and Spirituality and Pandemics.
When the famous Time magazine chose the person of the 20th century, it was Albert Einstein, perhaps one of the greatest scientists ever.
And he had the following to say:
“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a Spirit is manifest in the Laws of the Universe—a Spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we, with our modest powers, must feel humble.”
But Einstein himself revered Mahatma Gandhi and had said about him ‘Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth “.
And Mahatma Gandhi himself had said “ if both science and spirituality go hand in hand then one can create heaven on the holy earth “
So both Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi believed that science and spirituality must go together.
So what is science? What is spirituality?
Science comprises systematic study/ inquiry/ knowledge of the world gained through observation and experimentation. Therefore concepts, theories and principles given by science are universally acceptable.
Through scientific research and experiments scientists have gained such a mastery over nature that they are able to put satellites in earth’s orbit, send unmanned as well as manned spacecrafts to Moon and Mars, generate nuclear power and do many more such things to a very high level of precision.
What is spirituality?
Let’s look at the meaning of the word ‘spirit’ first.
The Latin spiritus means ‘breath’, which is also true for the related Latin word anima, the Greek psyche, and the Sanskrit atman.
The common meaning of spirit is that it is the breath of life.
Breath nourishes us and keeps us alive.
Spiritual experience is an experience of the aliveness of mind and body as a unity.
This experience of unity transcends not only the separation of mind and body but also the separation of self and world.
Spirituality deals with the nature of soul. A soul that is absolute and the ultimate truth.
Spirituality is an inner journey to discover inner peace & is all about expanding our capability to live, love and learn.
We have to realise that knowledge of the inner world and spiritual constitution of man will give him more mastery over his own life. Spirituality helps man to discover inner strength and vitality to face his own challenges in life.
Many people think that science and spirituality are antagonistic. But that is not true.
On the contrary, they are complimentary, co-operative, concomitant, collateral and co-operative.
Both provide important pieces to form the jigsaw puzzle called life.
The scientists take the outer world as their field of investigation, and the spiritual seekers take their own inner world of experiences as the field of their search for truth.
Science seeks to understand ‘what is the world’ while spirituality seeks to discover ‘who or what is man’.
It is evident that this notion of spirituality is very consistent with the notion of the embodied mind that is now being developed in cognitive science.
I wish to talk about the role of science and spirituality in the
current Coronavirus pandemic, a pandemic that has caused a devastation through both loss of lives as also livelihoods, sparing no nation, no society…
What does the virus do? At an individual person’s level, it causes damage to body, mind and soul.
I will show as to how science and spirituality together can heal body, mind as well as soul.
The healing of body is delivered through science.
It was science that provided the diagnostic testing kits to detect the disease.
Drugs and therapeutics to cure the disease.
Vaccines to prevent the disease.
Masks to protect the ingress of virus into the human body.
And then this was coupled with social behavioural changes, like self-isolation, social distancing, etc.
Along with body, the second healing required is that of mind.
The virus made the need for a positive psychological response that will reduce stress and trauma as need of the hour. Many turned to meditation.
Meditation is being alone in silence with yourself and letting your awareness go to the place, where peace and joy are eternal. Meditation is good for anti-stress.
Anti-stress in turn helps create a strong immune response. This in turn helps fight Covid-19 better.
In fact research has shown that there is a significant improvement in immune functions in response to spiritual care practices.
Along with body and mind, there is damage to the soul as millions of people experienced a sick soul. Why does that happen?
In a time of crisis, there is this impulse to go into emergency mode, fear, concern and panic. Giving in to those impulses results in soul sickness.
Damage to soul results in weariness of heart, existential dread, a sinking feeling that nothing really matters.
One can achieve healing of the soul in many ways.
Having a sense of meaning and purpose. Loving and being loved. Tapping into inner peace and joy. Being of service to others. Bringing comfort to someone feeling lonely and anxious.
Spirituality can play a big role during the Coronavirus pandemic, because it promotes coping strategies for stress, promotes recovery and resilience and prevents burnout, it can be a life-enhancing factor and a coping resource, which allows patients to deal with adversity in a better way. It may also increase their hopes for the future.
Spiritual care can form a part of the holistic approach to deal with the body–mind–spirit aspect of the population affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Finally, the big picture. Spiritual values are “creative and constructive mechanisms working to stabilise the society, to prevent its destruction. Compassion, kindness, sympathy, and caring are some of those spiritual values that drive humanity in its basic form.
COVID-19 has aroused the spirit of unity and interconnectedness in the health systems of several countries leading to global cooperation, collective decisions and actions at national, state/provincial, and local levels..
COVID-19 has removed barriers of ‘we and they’, ‘here and there’, and has stirred up the value of belongingness amongst us.
It has demonstrated that it sees our globe as one single interdependent community, as strong as the weakest link. We have realised COVID-19 is the problem of all and not some.
However, it faces huge counteracting forces which push in a ‘non-spiritual’ direction too.
For instance, there is stigmatization, blaming, and scapegoating, capitalised on by populist politicians (and also sometimes linked to geopolitics, see for example the current US-China controversy).
Society must avoid such damaging non-spiritual acts at all costs.
COVID-19 pandemic reminds us we are—deep down—spiritual beings, whether we realise it or not, and makes us recognise that the problem of coronavirus is a challenge that requires a component of compassion to alleviate suffering, and a greater responsibility to exercise our faith to witness divine intervention.
In a way, COVID-19 is also a battle for our souls, a “spiritual battle for the 21st century”. It’s a battle we have to win.
Although I have talked here about the power of coordination of science and spirituality helping us deal with the pandemic, that power is all pervasive in all walks of life. For instance, such coordination can help us achieve sustainable Chipko movement, or Appiko movement, which was driven by the spirituality that saved the trees. It showed that sustainable development is possible only with the coordination of science and spirituality.
Finally, it is the force multiplier of science and spirituality alone that will enable the creation of a world of prosperity, not for some privileged few but for all, and peace and tranquillity, again not for some privileged few, but for all. And this is my dream of a perfect world.