SRI RAMAKRISHNA ONCE SAID to Dr Mahendralal Sarkar: ‘Everything that you see here [meaning his own advent] is on account of him [Swami Vivekananda].’1 The young Narendranath was being groomed by his guru to become a preacher and a practical pathfinder of Vedanta philosophy. Swami Vivekananda later presented Vedanta in a modern perspective so that scientific minded people would appreciate it. By travelling all over India and the world, Swamiji realized science and engineering could partially remove the misery of the poor but not the beast in the human heart. Latent spirituality was to be aroused through ‘man-making education’. In this article we will review Swamiji’s ideas relevant to the field of science and engineering and expound upon the concept of spiritual engineering.
Swamiji was a spiritual leader who had modern university education and traditional spiritual training. He collected data by keenly observing the world during his extensive travels in India and the world, besides he deepened his spiritual experiences he had during his discipleship. His teachings, designed to develop a national consciousness based on spirituality, resonated with the poor and the rich, the learned and ignorant, and the high and the low. Like a scientifically established law of nature, his teachings remain valid today, 150 years after his birth. A scientist discovers a truth, an engineer makes it practical, and a technician makes it applicable to daily life. In the same way Sri Ramakrishna rediscovered the ancient truth of the rishis, Swamiji made it practical, and we are supposed to apply it for our liberation and the welfare of the world
Scientists discover truths with the help of instruments, sense organs, and experimentation. But the first flash of any discovery appears in the mind. That is why Swamiji said: ‘It is only when the mind is very calm and collected that the whole of its energ y is spent in doing good work .’2 Mind is primary, that is why ancient Indian sages developed the science of the mind as a means for achieving any desired result. This science of the mind is an integral component of spirituality in general and yoga in particular.
Scientists need a powerful toolbox, consisting of observation and analysis, to detect and identify truths hidden behind the forest of data and facts. According to Indian psychology, every human being has an antahkarana, internal instrument, which is comprised of mind, intelligence, memory, and ego. These functions are often erratic due to internal causes, such as karma and desires, and external causes, such as the interaction of the sense organs with the world. Yoga practices remove the internal obstructions and protect against harmful external influences. This is why Swamiji says if he had to redo his education, he would first learn how to control and concentrate the mind, then collect facts at will.
People generally believe science and philosophy are antagonistic. Swamiji tried to remove this erroneous notion by comprehending the truths in them. He said that science is the search for truth in the external world, and religion is the search for truth in the internal world. Pushed to the extreme, they both meet as there is one truth that is expressing itself internally and externally. Genuine happiness requires a proper balance between the two. This is where modern societies fail, as science and engineering receives the lion’s share of attention, disrupting the ideal equilibrium. This creates an internal vacuum, which results in an incessant search in the external world for fulfilment of one’s insatiable desires. Science and engineering is often blamed for the disharmony between the internal and external, however, this blame is misplaced. The actual cause is the uncontrolled mind. Science and engineering bring order not chaos, and this misunderstanding is why Swamiji wanted to strike a balance between spirituality and science.
To understand Swamiji’s original thoughts, we shall look at some of his ideas that over the years have been vindicated by science.
Creation · Scientists have recently theorized the universe as we know it was created 13.7 billion years ago with the Big Bang. This threatened many religious theories about creation but Vedanta stood its ground. As Swamiji says:
We know that in our books a clear distinction is made between two sets of truths. The one set is that which abides for ever, being built upon the nature of man, the nature of the soul, the soul’s relation to God, the nature of God, perfection, and so on; there are also the principles of cosmology, of the infinitude of creation, or more correctly speaking—projection, the wonderful law of cyclical procession, and so on—these are the eternal principles founded upon the universal laws in nature. (3.111).
There is also the idea in modern science of a cyclic creation and that too Swamiji dwells upon: ‘At the end of a cycle, everything becomes finer and finer and is resolved back into the primal state from which it sprang, and there it remains for a time quiescent, ready to spring forth again. That is Srishti, projection’ (3.399).
Scientists are striving to unify all the known forces of the universe and have succeeded to a great extent. Only gravity, till today, is not being amenable to this unification. In Vedanta, all forces mean internal as well as external, which science is just beginning to realize. Science, Swamiji says:
Has just discovered that what it calls heat, magnetism, electricity, and so forth, are all convertible into one unit force, and as such, it expresses all these by one name, whatever you may choose to call it. But this has been done even in the Samhita [Vedas]; old and ancient as it is, in it we meet with this very idea of force I was referring to. All the forces, whether you call them gravitation, or attraction, or repulsion, whether expressing themselves as heat, or electricity, or magnetism, are nothing but the variations of that unit energy. Whether they express themselves as thought, reflected from Antahkarana, the inner organs of man, or as action from an external organ, the unit from which they spring is what is called Prana. Again, what is Prana? Prana is Spandana or vibration (ibid.).
Swamiji also speaks of ‘desha-kala-nimitta; time, space, and causation’, which according to Indian philosophy shows a correspondence to the modern ideas of time and space.
Evolution and Involution · During Swamiji’s time, Darwin’s theory of evolution was controversial as it countered the official church doctrine; however, the theory, long propounded in India, is now well established and universally accepted. The last one hundred years of scientific progress makes Swamiji’s statements appear prophetic: ‘Every evolution presupposes an involution. The modern scientific man will tell you that you can only get the amount of energ y out of a machine which you have previously put into it (3.75)’ Through this brief statement Swamiji endorses the non-linear nature of time, and law of conservation of energ y, and he applies it creatively to the laws of evolution, saying that is presupposes involution. And not only that he pushes it to the spiritual nature of the human by saying ; ‘If man is an evolution of a mollusc, then the perfect man—the Buddha-man, the Christ-man—was involved in the mollusc. If it is not so, whence come these gigantic personalities?’ (ibid.).
Swamiji clarified his views on evolution by saying : ‘Do you not hear what your modern scientific men say? What is the cause of evolution? Desire. The animal wants to do something, but does not find the environment favourable, and therefore develops a new body. Who develops it? The animal itself, its will. You have developed from the lowest amoeba. Continue to exercise your will and it will take you higher still’ (3.356). Swamiji is therefore highlighting the power of sadhana to expedite one’s personal evolution. Although nature has an intrinsic quality that aids collective growth of the species, Swamiji asks us to put our will power to use. Similar remarks were made by Julian Huxley in Evolution after Darwin: ‘In the light of our present knowledge, man’s most comprehensive aim is seen not as mere survival, not as numerical increase, not as increased complexity of organization or increased control over its environment, but as greater fulfilment—the fuller realization of more possibilities by the human species collectively
and more of its component members individually.’3 This is exactly what we need to apply in our daily life. Scientific knowledge alone cannot do much unless a person translates it into actions through spirituality.
Swami Ranganathananda says: ‘If the whole universe is the product of a self-evolving cause, as Vedanta and modern science uphold, then that cause must be present in all its evolutionary products, which then can have no reality apart from it. This corollary follows whether that cause is viewed as an intelligent principle as in Vedanta or as a non-intelligent principle as in science.’4 He further adds: ‘Brahman is in man, but if we are to realize Him, we have to seek Him not in man’s obvious sensate experiences, but in the depth of his buddhi, intelligence, which is the highest product of evolution, being the most luminous’ (375).
In his lecture ‘The Cosmos’ Swamiji said:
At the beginning, the intelligence becomes involved; and in the end, that intelligence gets evolved. The sum total of the intelligence displayed in the universe must, therefore, be the involved universal intelligence unfolding itself. This universal intelligence is what we call God. Call it by any other name, it is absolutely certain that in the beginning there is that Infinite cosmic intelligence. This cosmic intelligence gets involved, and it manifests, evolves itself,until it becomes the perfect man, the ‘Christ-man’, the ‘Buddha-man’. Then it goes back to its own source. That is why all the scriptures say, ‘In Him we live and move and have our being.’ That is why all the scriptures preach that we come from God and go back to God.5
Nature of External Reality · The world we see is a gross manifestation of reality perceived and interpreted by our brains. The classical world of physics, and our ‘realist’ views, received a rude shock with the discoveries of the laws of quantum mechanics and its uncertainty principle. The quantum world of the sub-atom speaks of a realm akin to what Vedantins call maya. Swamiji in his brilliant Jnana Yoga lectures brought a modern interpretation to this ancient theory. ‘The Maya of the Vedanta, in its last developed form, is neither Idealism nor Realism, nor is it a theory. It is a simple statement of facts—what we are and what we see around us’ (2.89). ‘There is neither how nor why in fact; we only know that it is and that we cannot help it. Even to grasp it, to draw an exact image of it in our own mind, is beyond our power’ (2.94).
Erwin Schrödinger is one of the pioneers of this line of science, which is totally astounding to ordinary comprehension and has found practical application in many modern technologies by engineers. Walter Moore, Schrödinger’s biographer, writes: ‘The unity and continuity of Vedanta are reflected in the unity and continuity of wave mechanics. In 1925, the worldview of physics was a model of a great machine composed of separable interacting material particles. During the next few years, Schrodinger and Heisenberg and their followers proposed a universe based on superimposed inseparable waves of probability amplitudes. This new view would be entirely consistent with the Vedantic concept of All in One.’6
Influence of Spirituality in Human life
If we compare a human being with a computer, the body is its hardware and its mind is its software. The software is further divided into system and application software. Nature provides the necessary system software to every human being ; application software needs to be acquired by each individual through education, training, and development. Just as computers are affected with malware and computer viruses, the mind also is affected with variables that disturb the entire system. To optimize computer performance, viruses must be removed. Likewise, to optimize human performance, mental impurities must be removed. The best way to do that is through the practice of yoga.
Just as matter and mind is said to form a continuum, so disciplines of science and religion could be said to form a continuum of humankind’s exploration of the same reality. Swamiji’s effort was to show that the external and internal world are not separate, that the gross melts into the fine and physics into metaphysics.
There has been a growing discontent with old ideas of religion, as they are mostly rooted in ancient mytholog y, making them difficult to comprehend in today’s modern society. Science has exerted a powerful influence on the human mind globally, while religion has languished behind with its archaic world views and rules. Swamiji said: ‘When we want to study religion, we should apply this scientific process. The same principle also holds good here’ (2.329). He showed that any phenomenon has to be explained by the nature of the thing itself, as science does, and not depend on external explanations like the old interpretations of religions do. That is why he says:
Just as there are millions of people who are ready to believe in a Personal Creator, there have also been thousands of the brightest minds in this world who felt that such ideas were not sufficient for them, and wanted something higher, and wherever religion was not broad enough to include all these minds, the result was that the brightest minds in society were always outside of religion; and never was this so marked as at the present time, especially in Europe. To include these minds, therefore, religion must become broad enough. Everything it claims must be judged from the standpoint of reason (3.334–5).
‘Science without religion is lame; Religion without science is blind,’ said Albert Einstein.7 Dependence on both science and religion is required for sustainable growth of a modern society. Science augments physical resources; religion augments peace and harmony in human relationships. No person can stand on a single leg for a long time; similarly no society can progress as a whole without standing on both legs of science and religion. Hence the modern society that prefers to pay more attention to science and technology, while neglecting spirituality, is prone to sufferings. Many social problems can be solved by a revival of spirituality in a new form given by Swamiji. He said: ‘Modern science has really made the foundations of religion strong. That the whole universe is one, is scientifically demonstrable. What the metaphysicians call “being”, the physicist calls “matter”, but there is no real fight between the two, for both are one.’8
During Swamiji’s time India was underdeveloped, lacking technology and industry. He therefore advised Indians to take the help of Western science to eradicate poverty and unemployment and focus on education, health, and sanitation. He knew that until the population was educated and physically healthy, religion was a far cry. One of the reasons he went to the West was to recruit experts in vocational training and get the financial resources to start pragmatic institutions in India.
His ideas of education were also far ahead of his time. Today we have mass education, distance education, and adult education, which are becoming increasingly available to anybody wanting to pursue their own development, regardless of social or economic position. It took more than 100 years to start moving in the direction he originally identified.
Throughout his life of teaching practical Vedanta, Swamiji warned of the dangers of too much dependence on science and technology and insisted on preserving India’s spiritual heritage. He said: ‘Material science can only give worldly prosperity, whilst spiritual science is for eternal life. If there be no eternal life, still the enjoyment of spiritual thoughts as ideals is keener and makes a man happier, whilst the foolery of materialism leads to competition and undue ambition and ultimate death, individual and national’ (6.391). Today we need to implement spirituality in our daily activities. With the manifestation of the Atman one can master anything regardless of the field of endeavour. Therefore, integrating spirituality in both personal and professional life enhances one’s role as a scientist or engineer. Just as iron can be made rust free by adding alloying material, similarly a person can be made selfless by adding spirituality.
Studies on Consciousness
Swamiji made a very thought-provoking comment about gross matter: ‘Take anything before you, the most material thing—take any one of these most materialistic sciences, such as chemistry or physics, astronomy or biology—study it, push the study forward and forward, and the gross forms will begin to melt and become finer and finer, until they come to a point where you are bound to make a tremendous leap from these material things into the immaterial’ (4.204). Science tells us that gross matter follows the laws of Newtonian physics, while subtle matter follows the laws of quantum mechanics. All physical objects have mass and can be decomposed into molecules, atoms, and further subtle particles. Physicists recently discovered new subatomic packets of energ y known as Higgs-Bosons and confirmed the process in which they are converted to matter. This scientific discovery further points to the solidarity of the universe.
The standard model of physics is verified and science, as a whole, is moving a step forwards towards realization of the nature of matter. But, astoundingly, till date scientists have only been able to explore approximately four per cent of the observable universe; the remaining ninety-six per cent of the universe remains unexplored. The unexplored universe contains dark matter and dark energy.
In 1964 John Stewart Bell proposed a new theorem predicting the existence of an unbroken wholeness combining objective and subjective worlds holistically.9 Subsequently, Physicist Alain Aspect experimentally observed that two photons emerging out from the same source, but moving in two opposite directions, instantly communicate with each other irrespective of the distance they travelled. 10 Henry Stapp, with the support of Alain Aspect’s experiment, concluded that things outside space and time affect things inside space and time.11 In 1897 Swamiji said: ‘One atom in this universe cannot move without dragging the whole world along with it.’12 Such dragging force may arise out of some unbroken wholeness not clearly known to conventional scientists. The theorem of unbroken wholeness was experimentally verified by David Bohm and reported in his book published in 1980, Wholeness and the Implicate Order.13 Gradually, scientists started believing that over and above physical forces, consciousness is acting on everything that exists either as physical or as a mental entity. This concept fully conforms to Vedantic principles.
Neurologists, mathematicians, and physicists are trying to develop a scientific model of consciousness. Two theories that are popular today are: ‘Orch-OR Theory’ of Penrose and Hameroff;14 and, Amit Goswami’s ‘monistic ontology ’.15 Briefly, the former theory assumes that consciousness arises out of quantum collapse of very fine particles like microtubules, which cause excited neurons to fire. Penrose, however, said that their theory can explain only the mathematical intelligence of human brains and nothing more. Amit Goswami’s research on ‘monistic ontolog y’ considers consciousness as the root cause of everything.
Swamiji’s prediction ‘science and religion will meet and shake hands’ has now come true to some extent. He says: ‘You and I must be part of the cosmic consciousness, cosmic life, cosmic mind .’16 Many people consider mind and matter to be distinct entities. However, Swamiji says mind is matter but of a finer substance. He also claims there are various levels of the mind or consciousness, such as the subconscious and unconscious, which is a now a well supported concept in the field of neuropsychology.
Scientists say that matter, as a result of millions of years of progressive evolution, has risen to become conscious of itself. Vedanta and Swamiji take the opposite view, proposing the whole universe evolved out of consciousness. Swamiji states: ‘Out of consciousness are evolved Manas or mind, the organs of the senses, and the Tanmatras (particles of sound, touch, etc.). All the fine particles are evolved from consciousness, and out of these fine particles come the gross elements which we call matter’ (2.454). Vedantists call this consciousness, in its absolute form, Brahman or Atman.
Practical Vedanta for Scientists and Engineers
Swamiji once said: ‘Truths that we may learn from religion, apart from the comforts that we may gain from it, religion, as a science, as a study, is the greatest and healthiest exercise that the human mind can have’ (2.65–6). Our mind has the capacity to go beyond the superficial level we live in and can reach a mental state where consciousness expands. ‘Man is man so long as he is struggling to rise above nature and this nature is both internal and external’ (3.65). When this struggle is with external variables, it is called science. When it is with internal variables, it is called yoga. The popularity of yoga and meditation all over the world attests to the many positive effects on physical and mental health. Many studies indicate that meditation and yoga practices not only amplify intelligence but also help arouse finer human qualities. Swamiji taught all knowledge comes from the mind and the infinite library of the universe resides inside.
Swamiji proposes: ‘The remedy for weakness is not brooding over weakness, but thinking of strength. Teach men of the strength that is already within them’ (2.300). To be a spirited scientist or engineer, immense strength of mind and self-confidence is needed. At the same time, physical strength is not to be undermined. Swamiji advises: ‘If matter is powerful, thought is omnipotent. Bring this thought to bear upon your life, fill yourselves with the thought of your almightiness, your majesty, and your glory’ (3.302). ‘Where is the scientific man today who fears to acknowledge the truth of this oneness of the universe?’ (3.303).
Science teaches us the laws of conservation of mass and energ y. Swamiji added one more conservation law related to human thoughts and deeds. He said:
Every thought that we think, every deed that we do, after a certain time becomes fine, goes into seed form, so to speak, and lives in the fine body in a potential form, and after a time it emerges again and bears its results. These results condition the life of man. Thus he moulds his own life. Man is not bound by any other laws excepting those which he makes for himself. Our thoughts, our words and deeds are the threads of the net which we throw round ourselves, for good or for evil. Once we set in motion a certain power, we have to take the full consequences of it. This is the law of Karma (2.348).
Three things are essential in human life: full manifestation of head, heart, and hand. Scientists and engineers receive sufficient education and training for the development of their heads but not heart and hand. Little attention is paid for purification of hearts, wrongly assuming that intelligence and reasoning are sufficient for solving all problems of human life. Secondly, the practical application of one’s knowledge is woefully inadequate among the professional classes. Every impure heart becomes a source of problems in society. Apprehending this situation, Swamiji suggested ‘man-making education’ for all, but we are now eager to have only ‘money-making education’. Scientists and engineers are expected to harness natural resources to meet all physical needs of the common people without showing any bias to any particular section of people. But in reality, we find many discrepancies. The main reason behind all these disorders is lack of ethics, human values, and spirituality.
Rapid development in science and technology is making an impact on almost every sphere of life. Biological scientists are developing tools and methods to alter genetic codes of life embedded in dna and rna. Engineers are looking at bionics, robotics, and space travel beyond our solar system. However, alongside such fascinating developments lie potential dangers for the future, if such technologies are used intentionally or inadvertently by misguided persons for misguided purposes. Examples of such dangers include engineered viruses and contaminations with destructive powers possibly greater than atomic bombs.
Scientists and engineers are becoming increasingly concerned with environmental degradation and pollution. They are trying to save nature by inventing green technologies and avoiding energy wastage. They should not ignore the root of all contamination, mental pollution. Internal purification can be attained by combining science with spirituality and implementing Swamiji’s ideas in practical life.
We must be able to reverse-engineer our minds, according to Swami Vivekananda’s teachings, and go back to our source and find consciousness pervading the whole universe. Only then we can be called applying the dynamics of spiritual engineering.
(Source: Prabuddha Bharatha Special Edition January 2014)
1. His Eastern and Western Disciples, The Life of Swami Vivekananda, 2 vols (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2008), 1.151.
2. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1–8, 1989, 9, 1997), 2.293.
3. Julian Huxley, The Evolution of Life: Its Origin, History, and Future (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1960), 1.20.
4. Swami Ranganathananda, The Message of the Upanishads (Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2007), 472.
5. Complete Works, 2.209–10.
6. Walter J Moore, A Life of Erwin Schrödinger, (Cambride: Cambridge University, 1994), 127.
7. Albert Einstein, Science, Philosophy and Religion: A Symposium (New York: The Journal of Philosophy, 1941).
8. Complete Works, 7. 5 0 .
9. See John Stewart Bell, Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2004).
10. ‘Experimental Test of Bell’s Inequalities Using Time-Varying Analyzers’, Physical Review Letters, 49/25 (December 1982).
11. Henry P Stapp, Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics (New York: Springer-Verlag, 2003).
12. Complete Works, 3.269.
13. David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980).
14. Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose, ‘Orchestrated Objective Reduction of Quantum Coherence in Brain Microtubules: The “Orch OR” Model for Consciousness’; <http://www.quan-tumconsciousness.org/penrose-hameroff/or-chOR .html> accessed 5 November 2013.
15. Amit Goswami, The Self-Aware Universe (New York: Penguin, 1995).
16. Complete Works, 2.231